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OSU's Mirror Lake Well On Its Way To Sustainability

Ohio State University’s Mirror Lake has been a campus fixture for more than 140 years. It’s a beautiful scene for wedding pictures, and once a year, a wading pool for rowdy football fans. But for 9 months a chain-link fence surrounded Mirror Lake as crews made repairs – part of an on-going project to ensure future students get to enjoy Mirror Lake. Usually the setting at Mirror Lake is serene. But one night each year the solemnity explodes into chaos when hundreds of Ohio State University students jump into the lake just before the OSU Michigan football game. “We jump in the lake with a bunch of gorgeous women who are half-naked. Why not? We love it,” says a student. “We don’t like Michigan very much and that’s about it! A little good luck pep for the team.” After last year’s jump the university drained the lake. Not because of the festivities which, for the record, are officially prohibited by the university. Mirror Lake was emptied because it needed repairs. It was leaking. And OSU was keeping it full by buying water from the city. “Mirror Lake was being filled with drinking water and we were using 50,000 gallons a day.” Aparna Dial is Ohio State’s sustainability engineer. Using 50,000 gallons of water a day is far from sustainable, and it’s expensive. Keeping Mirror Lake full was costing OSU up to $50,000 a year. So researchers decided to look for a new source of water. The university dug a well and tapped into the ground water below. “We also took samples to look at the quality and we found that in both cases it was good quality and we had enough quantity for that to become a permanent source for Mirror Lake,” Dial says The university will soon build a permanent pump house nearby. Dial estimates the cost for that project at up to $70,000. As part of the overall project, engineers changed the depth of the lake. They added gravel to the deep end. Now all of Mirror Lake is no more than 5 feet deep. Dial says the gravel might also reduce the loss of lake water that’s seeping through the ground. “Because it’s such an old structure and everything degrades over time and the leaks could be through the bottom or the sides and so what we did in an attempt to somewhat mitigate the leaks and also shallow the depth and fill it with aggregates that could probably, potentially fill some of the cracks,” Dial says. The university is considering still more changes. Mirror Lake once had small islands and a bridge; features that might return. Another plan calls for a more open landscape around the lake, while another would make it a more wooded area. Dan Hedman works in the university’s division for Administration and Planning. He anticipates only minor changes to lake landscaping. “Just simple things like looking at walkways surrounding Mirror Lake and the overlook and some of the seating in the surrounding area, just various ways that we can potentially enhance the lake which can really be enjoyed by the entire campus,” Hedman says. This past spring semester the university took comments on the landscaping proposals. Hedman says one point shined through. “We were able to see how passionate everybody was about Mirror Lake. They love Mirror Lake the way it is and I think that’s going to never change. It’s an iconic feature for the campus,” Hedman says.