By Pam Frost Gorder
In the nearly 150 years that Mirror Lake has flowed through a hollow on Ohio State University’s Columbus campus, generations of students have watched its transformation from a tiny natural spring, to a stream, to a fountain paved in stone.
Now, the university will begin a study to explore the lake’s future evolution — to enhance its sustainability, beauty and safety.
As part of the university’s ongoing comprehensive work to address sustainability across campus, many projects are under way to reduce Ohio State’s environmental impact.
To that end, the university has hired EDGE Group, a local team of planners, landscape architects and development consultants, to study Mirror Lake’s water usage and explore ways of making its maintenance more sustainable.
“We are committed to incorporating sustainability into all facets of the university,” said Jay Kasey, senior vice president of Administration and Planning at Ohio State. “This is an opportunity to look at how to best ensure that Mirror Lake remains not only a beautiful feature on our campus, but also a sustainable and safe part of our landscape, so each of those aspects will be considered in how we move forward for the future.”
For instance, while the lake began as a spring with a natural bog, in 1895 it was dredged and expanded, and islands and bridges were added. In 1918 a winter storm toppled trees on the shoreline, and in its restoration, the lake was scaled back to the size it is today. In the late 1920s, an electric pump was added and the edges and lake bottom were paved. Since then, the lake has been fed artificially through the city water system.
Because it’s designed to flow continuously into the city sewer, the lake consumes some 50,000 gallons of water a day—equivalent to the combined daily water use of 125 average American families. EDGE Group will examine alternative and more sustainable ways to replenish the lake — perhaps with rainwater.
“Water may not be a scarce resource in our region of the country, but that doesn’t make it any less important to preserve,” said Aparna Dial, university energy and sustainability engineer, Office of Energy Services and Sustainability in Facilities Operations and Development. “Mirror Lake is such an iconic feature on our campus, as well as a significant part of our history. This effort will ensure it also represents the university’s commitment to sustainability.”
Other aspects of the study include determining the optimal safe depth for the lake, and the best bottom material; though much of it is shallow, the depth currently varies from three feet to more than seven feet, and the bottom is covered in stone. A uniform depth and a more natural “soft” lake bottom are both possibilities.
The study is set to begin in mid-November, with first results as early as January 2014. From there, the university will engage faculty, staff, students and alumni to discuss the ongoing evolution of the lake from a sustainability perspective — while preserving the lake’s status as a university landmark.
The goal of the study, Kasey said, is for Mirror Lake to remain an iconic water feature for the university community to enjoy for years to come.