Dredging up the past at the University Lakes of Baton Rouge to build a better future

Eric Suesz Eric Suesz June 25, 2024

4 min read

University Lakes are on the campus of LSU.

We’ve been publishing lots of customer stories in the last few years, and we have a steady stream of new ones in the works, but every once in awhile we see a customer story from one of our partners that we want to call out for its good work. This past week, we saw that Symetri, an Autodesk Platinum Partner, published a nice story about a lake revitalization project undertaken by Sasaki in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Six lakes, to be exact.

A former swamp falling back on its swampy ways

The University Lakes area is located practically inside the city of Baton Rouge, on the campus of LSU. It was originally a cypress swamp, but it was drained and converted to park land in the 1930s, one of the many Public Works Project successes that came out of the Great Depression in the US. Originally around 15-20 feet deep, these small lakes have slowly shrunk down to only a 3-5 foot level as soil and plant debris has filled the bottom of the lakes. As they’ve become more shallow, they’ve lost their ability to properly filter nutrient runoff from stormwater runoff and are ultimately taken over by algae blooms and rotting vegetation in the hottest part of the summer, suffocating fish and becoming a dead zone.

But they can be renewed, and the multi-year project to do so is now underway. The lakes will once again be dredged and deepened, this time to around 8 feet deep on average. As part of the dredging process, the thousands of cypress stumps that were left behind decades ago will finally be removed, and the entire area will get a make-over, including pedestrian and cycling paths and and a new bridge.

Impressively, Sasaki, the master design firm for the project, who are working with a Stantec flood-risk-reduction consultant, plan to reuse over 600,000 cubic yards of dredge material with the end goals of providing a more sustainable aquatic system, increasing flood protection, enhancing environmental performance and improving and diversifying recreational uses.

The environmentally friendly tool they chose? InfoDrainage.

As Sasaki Associate Mary Sullivan told Symetri: “InfoDrainage was used for this project on a broad scale – like high level surface analysis and designing bioretention ponds – and also on a micro level, such as moving a pipe inch by inch, sizing stormwater pipes, and generating details for construction documentation. InfoDrainage was used to connect and model all elements – structures, pipes, outlets, and incorporate rain gardens and bioswales, in a larger bioretention area – all in one program. It helps all the different teams visualize and coordinate without going back and forth between programs and iterations.”

We especially love hearing about engineers who use InfoDrainage for designing things like bioretention ponds, which is one of the many sustainable design options inside InfoDrainage. These options are especially popular with our software users in the UK, where InfoDrainage is probably more well-known.

In fact, our most recent customer story is about a team in the UK who upgraded from Microdrainage to InfoDrainage so they could take an environmentally sound approach to their drainage design for a new solar farm. We’re happy to see that US drainage designers are finding more and more ways to incorporate these kind of nature-friendly options.

Stormwater runoff is becoming increasingly important

All of these stories have something in common that is becoming a bigger and bigger issue: investing in projects that help deal with stormwater runoff. You’ll see more and more stories like this with a stormwater runoff component, and not just because we’ll be writing them, but because paying closer attention to the effects of stormwater is becoming a big trend, both because there is a new appreciation for its importance in the water cycle, but also its growing importance as a lever to pull to help deal with water issues that come with climate change.

To meet the challenges, many municipalities have been establishing stormwater utilities to deal with the demands of expanding cities. This issue came up when we interviewed another Autodesk customer, Bonton Associates, a family-run water consultancy located in the same Louisiana backyard. They told us about hosting a Stormwater Summit to bring local and state officials and water professionals together in Baton Rouge to build momentum for the East Baton Rouge municipality in creating its own stormwater utility. Thanks to those efforts, Louisiana became the 42nd state to establish a stormwater utility.

But even outside of cities the effects of stormwater is becoming more and more important – all the way up to the watershed level. The EPA just recently completed a long overdue Clean Watershed Needs Survey, and they make it clear that the US has a deep well of infrastructure needs, and that includes stormwater.

In the winter, migrating pelicans from Canada visit the University Lakes.

A great sustainability success story

Sasaki is proud of the work they’ve done, and Symetri is proud to have helped them utilize the best software. Naturally, we’re proud of both of them for taking the time to do a project like this right. This could become a good template for others to follow as they look to not just refresh a public park area but improve it mightily by considering the needs of everyone in Baton Rouge – but especially for considering nature’s needs first.

The Symetri story is a nice read with some good illustrations, and we encourage you to check it out, along with Sasaki’s own case study about the project.

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