Debra Valentino envisions a day when Canonsburg Lake will be bursting with healthy fish and wildlife, while birding enthusiasts enjoy the views and boaters freely explore the entire 138-acre impoundment.
That day is getting closer as the organization she founded -- the Canonsburg Lake Restoration and Improvement Committee -- is zeroing in on its fundraising goals to restore the lake.
"People have been donating in good faith for years," said Ms. Valentino, the group's founder and chairwoman. "We've been working hard to get a plan in place to restore this lake to the community."
Work could begin as soon as this fall on a major dredging project if the group is able to raise $800,000. Members already have raised $1.2 million in private donations and grants from Washington County through its Local Share Account program with the Meadows Racetrack & Casino.
The group was awarded another $500,000 from the state Department of Community and Economic Development, but that grant needs to be used by the end of June 2014.
To begin the final fundraising push, the group is sponsoring two major fundraisers, including one at 7 p.m. Monday at the Table Lakeside restaurant on Lakeside Drive and another on June 3 at Juniper Grill, along Route 19. Tickets for each will be sold at the door for $40, and all of the proceeds go to the group's project to restore the lake. The price includes appetizers, beer, wine and other refreshments.
Both restaurants have views of the lake, which the group hopes to restore by dredging silt that has built up over the past 70 years as the area underwent massive development.
"The accumulation of silt and sediment have reduced the depth of the lake, particularly south of McDowell Lane, resulting in diminished fish spawning due to the reduced water depth and changes in habitat," said Carole Milas, the group's fundraising chairwoman. "These situations are reversible if the plan that has been designed to restore and improve the lake is implemented. The longer we wait, the worse the situation becomes and the more costly these improvements will be."
Along with the dredging project, the group hopes to install a "weir" -- an underwater barrier -- upstream to help catch and control sediment and debris before it reaches the lake.
"The more sediment in there, the more it chokes the oxygen supply and it affects everything that lives in the lake," said Ms. Valentino, who said the group has raised enough money to begin the weir project. Members have begun applying for state permits to begin some work this year and hired Michael Baker Engineering to draw up plans.
Last year, the state Fish and Boat Commission -- which owns the lake -- spent $2 million to stabilize the dam by anchoring it to the bedrock beneath the lake and bringing it up to current safety standards.
The money for that project came from a state H2O grant for which the local group lobbied.
"That was the first step in saving the lake," Ms. Valentino said. "We don't have a lake without a dam."
The commission has been unable to pay for much of the repairs due to a funding crisis exacerbated by failing dams throughout the state.
That's where local groups like the restoration committee come in, determined to save the lake and the recreational opportunities and natural beauty that go with it.
"We're like the little group that could," Ms. Valentino said. "We're just doing what we can and learning along the way."
Ms. Milas said she hopes community members respond to the final fundraising. For those who can't attend the fundraisers, donations can be made at the website, at www.savecanonsburglake.org or by mailing a check to: Save Canonsburg Lake, WCWA, 760 Lakeside Drive, McMurray, PA 15317.
"The lake is a valuable community resource, and we now have an opportunity to preserve and improve this lake so that it can be enjoyed by future generations," she said. "Many have worked hard and much has been accomplished, but more work and money are needed to implement the full project."
The group also needs help 10 a.m. to noon Saturday for a cleanup project around the lake. Supplies, gloves and bags will be provided. Participants are encouraged to wear boots or hip waders and are asked to bring rope to help gather tree branches. Crews are meeting at the main parking lot near McDowell Lane at 10 a.m.
Janice Crompton: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-851-1867.