Camas, WA — After generations of battling water quality issues at Lacamas Lake — and now Fallen Leaf Lake — city leaders, county officials, and state representatives are now beginning to form an alliance to tackle severe environmental issues affecting the popular recreation areas.
Citing multiple occurrences of toxic algae in both lakes, which make them unfit for recreation, Camas City Council member Steve Hogan said he, Mayor Barry McDonnell, and Camas Public Works Director, Steve Wall, are in the process of getting an inter-local agreement between the city and Clark County.
“We decided it was time to clean this lake up,” said Hogan, “and we have the full support of the Mayor and city leaders. We have Temple Lentz and Gary Medvigy on Clark County Council on board, plus Senator Ann Rivers, and state representatives Larry Hoff and Brandon Vick. We asked our state representatives if there’s commitment from them to move through the agencies: Department of Ecology, Department of Fish and Wildlife, Department of Natural Resources, and Department of Agriculture. They said yes.”
The pollution sources that likely contribute to the algae blooms include the following:
- Storm water facilities feeding into the lake
- Lacamas Shores bio-filter, which critics say hasn’t been properly maintained by their Home Owner’s Association
- Dairy farm/cattle runoff
- And, historical neglect. From 1883-1889, the Camas forest was logged before we became a state, and there were no protections, and so much drained into the lake over the decades.
“This isn’t going to be a quick fix,” said Hogan. “We want this cleanup to be part of a 20-year strategy. Fallen Leaf Lake and Lacamas Lake have separate issues, but readings at Lacamas Shores have 122 storm pumps leading into it, which go into the lake.”
Hogan said they want a system of testing that goes upstream to see which ponds are contributing to the toxic algae in the lakes. In the process, said Hogan, the county suggested re-designating Lacamas Lake as a recreational lake, which the Camas City Council did in February. It had been previously designated as an industrial lake.
“Today’s story has to deal with algae, but we have to improve the lake for the long run,” said Hogan. “We need to get rid of the dead zone in the lake, where nothing can live. There’s too much debris at the bottom of the lake, which is a major contributor to the pollution. We have to deal with this. We’ve gotten a lot of help from Judit Lorenz, Council member Ellen Burton, and Council member Bonnie Carter. Every council member is very psyched up about it.”
The next action items are working with Clark County Public Works, since they’ve been observing lake water quality issues.
“We are in the process of getting this inter-local agreement between Camas and Clark County,” said Wall. “We believe there are short-term things we can do to improve the water quality, but there are many long-term objectives, as well.”
In the short term, said Wall, “we have to educate citizens about knowing when and how to fertilize lawns, and what goes into storm drains, and we need to work with HOA’s so they can fulfill their responsibilities. There are lots of things we can do.”
These developments are welcome news to Lacamas Shores resident, Steve Bang, who has been advocating for cleaning up his neighborhood bio-filter, which many think is a wetland.
“The Lacamas Shores HOA hasn’t properly maintained the bio-filter since 1993,” said Bang. “The bio-filter originally had natural plants that absorbed toxins before they went into the lake. The HOA was supposed to clear those toxic plants on a regular basis to keep the bio-filter operating properly. They’ve neglected to do that, and I’ve been trying to get the city to apply pressure on our HOA to live up to their responsibilities.”
Bang thinks reclaiming the bio-filter to its original state will resolve much of of the lake’s toxic algae issues. He’s been trying to get his HOA to resolve the issue on their own, and lately he’s been pressuring the city to assist in the efforts.
“We can fix major problems right now,” said Bang. “We just have to act. If the city can pressure our HOA to do their job, it doesn’t have to be a part of the inter-local agreement. And, getting this bio-filter fixed won’t cost the taxpayer any money. We don’t have to wait.”
Bang said the Ecology Department does not allow wetlands and bio-filters to co-mingle and that the restoration will be done according to Ecology’s best practices manual. You can learn more about the Lacamas Shores bio-filter at www.Lacamasshoresbiofilter.org
Camas leaders are looking to the state to apply pressure on agencies to do their part.
“Working with the multiple agencies has been like herding cats, and we hope to get past the red tape,” said Hogan. “This is where people like Senator Ann Rivers can be a major support. The city also owns the dam and the mill ditch, and we can use that to make things move faster. Less red tape.”
Rivers is using her membership on the Legislature’s powerful Ways and Means committee, as well as a member of top four elected leadership, to apply pressure on the agencies that can help resolve this.
“I have the ability to drive funding that someone with less experience simply will not have,” said Rivers. “There are many grant programs we can use to clean up the lake. I have very good relationships in DC with our federal elected representatives because we partner on issues important to our shared constituency.”
Hogan said once these problems are fully identified and defined, he wants the council to make the Lacamas Lake cleanup “part of our 20-year plan.”
“We need to make a city process that is closely monitored,” said Hogan. “We need to change the culture so we are monitoring the key elements affecting the water quality. We have to keep pressure on all agencies to make this happen. The city and the taxpayer owns most of the property now around Lacamas Lake — it’s all inside the city limits now. Owning the dam and ditch gives us more leverage to clean it up. Most cities don’t have that ability, but we do. We can move water into that ditch and divert the crappy water out of the water system. We want to say to the Department of Ecology ‘we want you to be our partner in this.’”
WSU staff spoke with Wall and they’ve done studies to work to improve the lake quality, as well.
“The cleanup of Lacamas Lake is a very high priority,” said Rivers. “By working with the City of Camas, Department of Ecology, and Department of Natural Resources, I believe that we can get the funding we need and develop a policy that prevents a repeat of this situation so we can make these lakes safer for everyone .”
Hogan said this is going to “be a long, hard fight, but it’ll be worth it.”
Wall expects the inter-local agreement to be completed in the coming weeks, and then it will go to City Council approval.