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Facts about Lake Matoaka

  • Lake Matoaka-named after Chief Powhatan's daughter whose nickname was Pocahontas-is a 16-hectare, man-made lake on the campus of the College of William and Mary. 
  • The lake was constructed by English colonists some 25 years after the College was chartered in 1693, making it the oldest man-made lake in Virginia and one of the oldest in the New World.
  •  The original creek system was first dammed in the early 18th century to create a pond behind a gristmill. The mill remained in private operation for over 100 years. The college re-acquired the lake from private ownership in the early 20th century.
  •  A 600-hectare watershed surrounds Lake Matoaka. The College of William and Mary owns the lake and a majority of the watershed property surrounding the lake, and has set aside over 150 hectares of that forest as a nature preserve.
  •  The woods surrounding Lake Matoaka is the largest remaining contiguous forest in the town of Williamsburg.
  •  The east side of the lake is bordered by the populated campus of the College of William and Mary; the west side of the lake is bordered by mature coastal plain forest.
  •  The lake is fed by 5 small streams. Average depth in Lake Matoaka is approximately 2 meters, and the deepest point is about 5 meters.
  •  The uses of the lake currently are for water-based instruction and research by the William and Mary academic community.
  •  In the late 1980s, chronic sewage spills and elevated pathogenic bacteria levels forced lake closure to the public. Although the sewage leaks soon were fixed and bacteria levels returned to normal low levels within a year, the lake remains closed to public use.
  •  Owing to long-term nutrient enrichment from sewage spills and other non-point sources from campus and the surrounding community, the lake is indexed as hypereutrophic. The principle pollutants in Lake Matoaka are sediments and nutrients derived from the surrounding watershed.
  •  Algal blooms persist on the lake throughout the summer.
  • Aside from its old age, the lake is similar in many respects to the thousands of impoundments that are found on the coastal plain and throughout Virginia. We are using Lake Matoaka as a model system for examining the "downstream" impacts of upland development.