Three years after the State Highway Administration created Lake Median, a sediment pond in Gambrills filled with 3 million gallons of highly acidic water, the roads agency would like to undo its mistake.
Ed Stein, assistant to the SHA's chief engineer, said the agency may neutralize the water with lime later this month, drain it into nearby Jabez Branch -- a rare and endangered trout stream -- and refill the 18-foot-deep pond with dirt left over from a recently completed road project in Annapolis.
No final decision has been made, Stein said. But James Gracie, an SHA-paid trout consultant, has assured roads officials the plan can work.
As a final test before the water is drained, several trout contained in cages will be lowered into the lake and monitored for at least two weeks, Stein said.
"If all goes right, then we could start pumping in (late) November," he said.
The pond was created when the SHA borrowed dirt from the median strip of Route 3 to build ramps along Interstate 97. In 1987, environmentalists complained that pond water heated by the sun was running into Jabez, killing temperature-sensitive trout. Roads officials dammed the pond, which gradually grew in size.
Last winter, SHA officials proposed draining the lake, saying they feared it could flood storm drains and wash out sections of the highway.
Those plans were placed on hold when the Department of Natural Resources discovered low pH levels -- equivalent in acidity to those found in lemon juice -- in the pond.
While applauding SHA's studied approach to Lake Median, some environmentalists say the half-acre pond may best be left alone.
Ken Yetman, a biologist with the Department of Natural Resources, said the water level in the pond has declined two to three feet since last spring through evaporation and absorption into the ground.
"If it's causing no serious threat to the roads, I say leave it alone," said Lina Vlavianos, a Millersville resident and member of the Severn River Commission. "If the water level is not rising, why bother?"
Vlavianos said she finds it ironic that the SHA created Lake Median by borrowing dirt to build one highway, and has proposed resolving the problem by borrowing dirt from another.
"It's unfortunate that the state will spend millions of dollars excavating thousands of cubic feet of dirt from there and now are spending more money moving in new dirt," Vlavianos said. "It seems short-sighted planning. It's mind-boggling how these agencies do business."
Stein said the proposed soil is left over from the construction of Patuxent Boulevard between Route 50 and Route 2. The dirt is extremely moist, does not compact well and is not suitable for other road construction projects, he said.
If state officials decide not to fill in Lake Median, they would be faced with draining the pond every winter, Stein said.
"It's just going to be a source of constant vigilance," he said.