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Archive: Cleaning Up The Lake

This article was written for The Spark by Juliet Bartlett in December 1990. In the same issue, Jimmy Saville visited the Cybernetics department and Alex Gordon reviewed the ‘Thatcher Years’ of British government.


Earth Action Group presents “Cleaning up the lake”, or, to be more precise, cleaning up the question of cleaning up the lake.

Most people must have noticed that Whiteknights Lake on a bad day carries the kind of fragrance that would make the average hippopotamus think twice about breathing too deeply. Even if the distinctive bouquet wasn’t enough to stop our hippo from using the lake as a watering hole, then the gangs of marauding oily gunk-material that float about on the surface wielding bacterial flick-knives would be.

The hippo escaped lightly. Not so the swans who, over the past year or so, have hissed their last and floated feet-skywards to their final resting place. So, the Earth Action Group decided to see what would could be done to reduce the smell, the dirt and the body-count. Donning our investigate raincoat and trilby, we sauntered over to Whiteknights House to speak to Mr. Cooke, the Grounds Superintendent.

Mr. Cooke was helpful and frank. He admitted that the lake was not as healthy as it might be, and that a certain disease present in the lake had killed a number of swans. He asked us not to name the disease and pointed out that it was present in 90% of freshwater lakes in the UK. However, it is particularly virulent in Whiteknights Lake since the water is very shallow, due to silting up over the years, and it has been worsened by the hot summers over the past year or two.

So what can be done?

Basically the lake needs to be dredged. However a report carried out by the grounds staff five years ago found that the dredging operation would cost £80,000. Mr. Cooke estimated that his figure would be closer to £140,000 by now, not the sort of money the university if inclined to spend on the project.

In an attempt to do something to remedy the situation, three years ago a substance called Nortex was introduced into the lake, to break down the silt-material, thereby increasing the depth of the water. Apparently, anglers who use the lake have said that the quality of the fish has improved. However, Mr. Cooke feels that the use of Nortex is not a final solution; it is merely holding the problem at bay. One possible viable alternative that he is considering is to excavate some of the most badly silted areas round the edges but this has yet to be decided.

Another area of concern with regard to the lake is the question of gunk flowing into the water from various sources on campus. A member of our group was strolling past the lake a few weeks ago when he notices that a somewhat unpleasant-looking substance was oozing out of one of the pipes that are dotted around the edge of the lake, and spreading liberally over the surface of the water. Being a quick-witted chap, he sprinted back to his department and returned with a coffee cup into which he scooped some of the foamy substance. We were soon informed that this was a “relatively harmless soup product.” The department concerned was apparently unaware that its waste was being flushed into the lake.

Mr. Cooke informed us that he is “very concerned to avoid discharging any harmful materials into the lake.” There are pollution traps in most of the drainage outfalls, to catch any oil or petrol that is washed into the system from the car parks. However, some of the older car parks are not so well protected.

So, what do we think should be done?

Ideally, we’d like to see the university stump up the cash for the lake to be properly dredged and cleaned. How much is £140,000 compared to the amount of money the university has spent on building work over the past year? However, if this can’t be done, we’d like to see the partial clearance scheme mentioned by Mr. Cooke carried out in the very near future.

Also, we’d like You Out There to help us. If you see anything flowing into the lake from a drainage pipe that looks nasty, let us know via the Clubs Drawer in the Enquiries Office. Overall, help keep the lake clean by refraining from dropping litter all over the place. I don’t support that those who do litter the lake area have read this far, since I’ve used a number of words with more than one syllable, so if you see anyone dropping litter down there, push them in and let’s hope that they get a stomach full of whatever caused the untimely demise of those swans.

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