Clark County Public Health issues another warning on Lacamas Lake water quality

The Clark County Public Health Department issued a public health warning Wednesday regarding the water quality of both Lacamas Lake and Round Lakes. Officially, there is a warning for Lacamas Lake, and a caution for Round Lake. Citizens should not swim in or ingest the lake water at either site.

Clark County Public Health officials are once again warning area residents against swimming or recreating at Lacamas Lake (shown here) or Round Lake. Photo courtesy of John Ley
Clark County Public Health officials are once again warning area residents against swimming or recreating at Lacamas Lake (shown here) or Round Lake. Photo courtesy of John Ley

This comes at the same time the city of Camas has begun its annual lowering of the water level of Lacamas and Round lakes, to inspect the dams that create the lakes. That began about 10n days ago, and will continue through the end of October.

Clark County Public Health has upgraded their advisory at Lacamas Lake to warning, due to elevated levels of cyanotoxins in the water. According to Clark County Public Health officials, cyanotoxins can be harmful to people, especially young children, and deadly for small pets that drink the water.

The water was tested on Sept 21 at Lacamas Lake, according to the state’s toxic algae website. That report indicated levels of Microcystin are above state limits. Microcystin primarily affects the liver, causing minor to widespread damage, depending on the amount of toxin absorbed. People swimming, waterskiing, or boating in contaminated water can be exposed to microcystins, according to a California EPA study.

Algae blooms have been a problem for several years on Lacamas Lake. For much of the 2020 summer there was a warning posted at the lake advising citizens about the toxic nature of the Lacamas Lake water. Microcystin levels have been above state limits 10 times since June, according to the state website’s data. County records show Lacamas Lake had algae blooms in 2020, 2019, 2018 and 2012 according to Clark County Environmental Health Program Manager Brian Schlottmann.

In August, Clark County Today reported that at Lacamas Lake, about 70 percent of samples taken this summer have exceeded the acceptable threshold, sometimes at a level of 10 times the limit.

Camas resident Steve Bang has been outspoken regarding the Lacamas Lake water problems. 

“This has been an ongoing problem for nearly two decades,” said Bang. “I believe the biggest contributor to the poor water quality is a failed biofilter at the Lacamas Shores subdivision. It is allowing untreated stormwater to run into the lake.”

On Wednesday, several area citizens observed water overflowing a stormwater manhole cover at Lacamas Shores subdivision biofilter. This was happening roughly 30 minutes after a light rain started to fall, according to Camas resident Todd Schoenlein. 

Microcystin was detected at 14 µg/L (state threshold is 8 µg/L) according to Schlottmann. “2020 is the worst year on record for this lake regarding algae blooms and toxicity,” said Schlottmann in an email exchange with Clark County Today. This is not sufficient information to say there is a long-term issue with water quality, however it is an indicator, according to Schlottmann.

Lakes in the state are evaluated once every 15–20 years by the Washington State Department of Ecology according to Schlottmann. “After speaking with the Limnologist assigned to this lake, William Hobbs a few months back, Lacamas Lake is nearing that window but a date to evaluate it is not yet scheduled,” said Schlottmann. 

Schlottmann reports there is growing community, city, and county interest to better understand the water quality of this lake and to address any issue found. This conversation has recently expanded to include elected officials and state level experts, Schlottmann said.

Bang has testified before many Camas City Council meetings, urging them to enforce water quality standards, and to require the Lacamas Shores Homeowners Association to fix the failed biofilter. 

Earlier this summer, Camas City Councilor Steve Hogan gave the City Council an extensive briefing on the history of Lacamas Lake and the water quality issues. Hogan reported that the history of water quality problems of the lake goes back to when it was owned by Henry Pittock for his paper mill. Hogan indicated he is working with Clark County officials and elected state representatives to do more studies of the problem and to find solutions.

Camas Marie Callerame said she had a conversation with Steve Wall Public Works Director of the city of Camas. The city currently has no further plans to make the Lacamas Shores Homeowners Association fix the failed biofilter.