August 25, 2000

C.U. Doubles Up on Beebe Lake Project

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Those traveling to North Campus have probably noticed a dried-out sandy basin where Beebe Lake once stood. Cornell officials reassure that the pond will return to normal soon, once repairs are complete.

From Aug. 14 to Aug. 18, Cornell workers for the grounds department removed accumulating sediment from the inlet of the lake. It had “almost formed a dam forcing water onto the shore during the winter and blocking the flow of water,” said Hal Martin, Project Manager for the Beebe Lake dredging project.

Beebe Lake, which was formed from a swamp in 1987, must be drained every 10 to 15 years to retain its appearance, grounds keepers said.

This time around, Cornell is hitting two birds with one stone by also installing chill water pipes in the lake bed as part of the Lake Source Cooling Project.

Cornell engineers are using high density, polyethylene pipes to supply chilled water to air condition the new dormitories which are part of the North Campus Residential Initiative, said Frank Perry, manager of the pipe installation project.

The Lake Source Cooling Project has spurred much controversy and debate since its beginnings. Cayuga Lake Defense Fund has been taking legal actions to halt or stall the project for nearly 2 years. The fund, along with other Ithaca activists, argues that the project may interfere with the already endangered environment of the lake area.

Lake Source Cooling takes water from the depths of Cayuga Lake through pipes to a heat exchange facility. Water for Cornell is cooled by heat exchanges panels and is pumped to the campus, where it is used to air condition classrooms, laboratories, and dormitories.

According to Lanny Joyce ’81, Senior Engineer of the Utilities Department and Project Manager for Lake Source Cooling, there will be an 80 to 90 percent reduction in energy use as a result of this project, cutting a sizable chunk of Cornell’s electric bill.

However, once lake water passes through the heat exchange facility, it returns to the lake warmer and more phosphorous-rich. The change in water quality causes weeds and algae to grow in the lake, according to Walter Hang, president of Toxic Targeting, Inc.

“The permit should never have been granted,” Hang said. “The discharge is completely illegal because it will cause or contribute to the existing conditions involving turbidity and phosphorous,” he said.

A plan was proposed to offset the pollution impact of Lake Source Cooling, but it was rejected by Cornell and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

The plan would require Cornell to clean up non-point source pollution hazards, such as storm water and agricultural runoff, to improve the water quality. The Cayuga Lake Defense Fund is fighting to implement that plan. They are also trying to get the discharge pipe to extend into deeper water from where it was drawn, Hang said.

The water returning to the lake is not as nutrient-rich as alleged by the Cayuga Lake Defense Fund and the temperature is not significantly warmer than the lake water it is being returned to, Joyce said.

Cornell has been collecting data for one and a half years to monitor the conditions. The lake is “absolutely of highest importance to us,” said Joyce. “Phosphorous is an issue of the past and I think people are comfortable with that now.”

Although the cooling system has been up and running since mid-July, Hang asserts, “We are not giving up just because it’s already built.”

Archived article by Anastasia Handy