Fact check: Sinkhole caused a Missouri lake to drain — again

·5 min read

The claim: A sinkhole drained a lake in Missouri

Much of a 17-acre lake in Missouri disappeared almost overnight after a sinkhole materialized – for the second time in five years.

Pictures of the phenomenon quickly spread on social media.

"A sink hole opened up and drained the lake," reads the caption for a May 9 Facebook post shared nearly 2,000 times.

Accompanying it, there are two photos of the lake at Lone Elk Park in St. Louis, which show water being sucked down a sinkhole near shore as people watch. The user didn't respond to USA TODAY's request for comment.

The photos are legitimate and were featured by several media outlets Monday.

Sinkhole appeared over weekend

On May 7, St. Louis County posted on its website the lake was "leaking." The advisory said the park, along with its roads and trails, remained open.

That same day, officials learned the water levels had decreased by about 3 feet. The sinkhole was revealed as water continued to drain, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

The water drained underground and resurfaced in an old creek bed that is part of Castlewood State Park, St. Louis County Parks Director Tom Ott told the Post-Dispatch. Castlewood State Park is about a mile away from the partially drained 50-year-old lake at Lone Elk Park.

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Officials haven't yet determined the cause of the sinkhole, but there are a few theories.

Over the winter, officials fixed a hole at the water's edge, which allowed the water level to start rising again. That added pressure might have caused the soil to give in, Tobi Moriarty, manager of design and development at St. Louis County Parks and Recreation, told Fox 2.

But the cause could have also been an earthquake that rocked the area in April. "That would make a lot of sense," Moriarty said.

The earthquake, a magnitude 2.5, left no visible damage behind. Except, possibly, the sinkhole.

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The sinkhole is about 6 feet in diameter, Sherri Stoner, environmental geology section manager at the Missouri Geological Survey, told USA TODAY in an email.

Officials estimate the sinkhole is about 20 feet deep, Moriarty said.

Lone Elk Park has been home to bison, wild turkey, elk and deer since the 1970s. Before the park opened to the public in 1973, the area had been used for testing and storage of ammunition from World War II.

But sinkholes are nothing new for Missourians.

Sinkholes common in Missouri

There are about 16,000 sinkholes in Missouri, with some reaching a depth of 100 feet, according to the Missouri Geological Survey, a division of the state's Natural Resources Department.

The program says the state is prone to sinkholes because of the materials found in the terrain in most areas: carbonate bedrock and limestone, which are very porous.

When it rains, the water makes its way down cracks in the layer of limestone until it reaches and erodes the bedrock. As rock is washed away, large pockets of air develop under the ground, which ultimately cave in, collapsing the ground and forming a sinkhole.

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In 2004, a 50-foot-wide sinkhole drained 23-acre Lake Chesterfield within a few days. The lake had an average depth of 7 to 10 feet.

And in 2016, a sinkhole opened in the same lake at Lone Elk Park.

The 2016 hole was fixed by filling it with a concrete slurry mix, the Post-Dispatch reported. Officials haven't said if they'll use the same mix to patch the current sinkhole.

"We have started the process to find a solution and repair the lake," Moriarty said. “The aesthetics are the biggest part of this lake. People come here and expect to see a great, big, beautiful lake, and we’ll try and get it back there for them as soon as possible.”

Patricia Merlenbach Brasier, who spent Mother's Day at the lake after hearing about the sinkhole, witnessed the draining and posted photos on Facebook. Those photos were consistent with the images examined in this check.

"It was cool. You could hear the water rushing in," Merlenbach Brasier told USA TODAY.

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Our rating: True

We rate the claim that an image shows a sinkhole at a lake in Lone Elk Park TRUE, based on our research. Officials have addressed the sinkhole, and multiple local news outlets have reported on it, sharing images that matched the scenery of the photos shared on Facebook.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Sinkhole partially drains Missouri lake for the second time

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