Lacamas Watershed Symposium attracts volunteers and government interest
for Clark County Today
Roughly 60-70 people attended a Clark County sponsored Lacamas Watershed Symposium on Wednesday. Presentations were made by the state Department of Ecology, Clark County, the city of Camas, the Lacamas Watershed Council (LWC), the Watershed Alliance, and the Clark Conservation District. County Councilors Gary Medvigy, Michelle Belkot, and Glen Yung were in attendance along with various local officials.
The volunteer groups of citizens are doing an extensive amount of work to evaluate water quality and actually clean up trash around Lacamas, Round, and Hidden Leaf lakes. In 2022, 173 volunteers removed 225 pounds of trash. In 2023, 240 volunteers removed 672 pounds of trash and 30 cubic yards of ivy from trees. Additionally, 19,848 trees were planted over the past two years.
Just outside the meeting at Lacamas Lake Lodge, the lake was under a “Warning” issued by public health officials. Toxic algae blooms are present. Citizens and pets are advised to avoid contact with the water..
Clean water throughout the 67 mile Lacamas Watershed was the focus. A great deal of information was presented on Lacamas Lake water quality and the toxic algae blooms that have been ever-present since 2019. Cyanobacteria are fed by nutrients, primarily phosphorus which then create toxic algae blooms.
“2021 was a ferocious year for blooms,” said Vicki Wessling, a member of LWC. That was the same year local citizens tested multiple locations around the Lacamas Shores HOA biofilter. They found the biofilter actually added significant amounts of phosphorus and pollutants to the stormwater instead of cleaning it.
Retired botanist Rodger Hauge works with a team of volunteers from LWC. He told the audience his group has “a rich partnership with Steve Wall,” Camas Public Works director, which drew some chuckles and smiles from the audience. “Steve Wall was right,” Hauge exclaimed. “We have to stop phosphorus at its source!”
That was a surprising statement, given that Camas officials have not tried to enforce water quality standards on the Lacamas Shores (LS) HOA and their failed biofilter. Citizen Steve Bang has filed suit attempting to force the HOA to fix the biofilter and return it to its original operating condition.
Hauge’s volunteer group has had five teams testing Lacamas Lake water for three years beginning in 2021. “This year we did 13 littoral test sites around the lake in the growing season, once a month for ortho phosphate,” he said. “We tested 8 sites mid lake for ortho phosphate; 5 surface and 3 at about 60 feet.”
The data they collected found in 2022, there was “no internal loading.” The phosphorus on the bottom of the lake didn’t add to the phosphorus in the water that year. Other reports indicate about 20 percent of phosphorus comes from sediment on lake bottoms.
His group measured the following:
- Air temperature
- Weather and wind speed & direction
- Barometric pressure
- Ortho phosphate
- Dissolved oxygen
- Water temperature
- Total dissolved solids
The Lacamas Watershed Council has been very active for the past four years. They were formed after Judit Lorinez and her daughter got sick 48 hours after helping with the annual Lacamas Lake cleanup. The lake was under a toxic algae warning at the time.
The LWC highlights four areas that need to be addressed. Reducing total phosphorus, increasing oxygen levels in the water, stopping shoreline erosion, and active monitoring.
The website states: Decreasing the ‘total phosphorus’ (TP) levels requires addressing phosphorus in all layers of the lake from the highly saturated sedimentary deposits at the bottom to the less concentrated phosphorus at the top. Algae blooms decrease oxygen content in a few ways. When in bloom and floating on the top of the body of water, the algae blocks the sunlight from the underwater plants to grow. This limits oxygen production at the lower levels of the lake.
Members of the Camas City Council were recently briefed at a special meeting in September on their Water Management Plan. Over 13 months, water was tested at multiple locations around Lacamas and Round lakes and a few creeks. The testing locations did not include the privately owned golf course or the Lacamas Shores neighborhood. The tests were primarily for phosphorus.
A brief version of that plan was shared by Wall and Geosyntec consultant Jacob Krall. They are recommending Camas adopt a 10-year, $4.1 million plan. The 3-phase plan would focus on adding alum or a proprietary chemical to inactivate the phosphorus in Lacamas Lake water. Alum is the most commonly used chemical around Washington state for treating excessive phosphorus in lakes.
Hauge is afraid that simply dumping chemicals into the lake wouldn’t solve the problem, which is eliminating all the point sources where phosphorus and pollutants are being added to water around the watershed. This would include the dairy farms along Lacamas Creek as well as the various residential areas around the watershed. “You have to eliminate the phosphorus and pollutants at their source,” he said.
While LWC volunteers have found elevated levels of phosphorus at all locations they have tested, the golf course doesn’t have the highest levels. So far, the LS HOA biofiler has the highest levels of pollutants found, according to Hauge.
Marie Tabata Callerame is a former member of the LWC and former resident of the Lacamas Shores neighborhood. She previously shared data showing the history of the LS HOA biofilter indicating it reduced phosphorus between 1990 and 1993. The levels dropped from 140 micrograms per liter (ug/L) to 23 ug/L. The compliance level was 225 ug/L.
In 2020 they found the biofilter had failed. Test results indicate 550 ug/L of phosphorus coming from one point within LS HOA biofilter. A different point had 972 ug/L. Comparing water entering the biofilter with exit water, phosphorus levels were 3 to 6 times higher at exit points.
Lacamas Lake is up to 65 feet deep. Round Lake is up to 60 feet deep. They have low amounts of dissolved oxygen, meaning it’s difficult for marine life to survive without the proper amounts of oxygen in the water. Councilor Medvigy has been an advocate of using nanobubbles to increase oxygen levels in lake water in combination with chemical treatment.
He noted the effectiveness of combined chemical treatment and nanobubbles is not well quantified. The chemical use is very expensive and transitory, whereas nanobubble generators can run around the clock for as many years as they are maintained and operated.
Medvigy has been trying to get Camas, the County, and all stakeholders to enter a partnership, via an Interlocal Agreement. This would allow them to jointly approach the state for funding to get oxygen into the lake water and get a longer term monitoring and treatment plan into effect. The city refused to sign the agreement, but later appears to be working with county staff without a signed Interlocal Agreement for some testing and evaluation work.
There is roughly 157,000 acre feet of water flowing into the lake a year, approximately 21 times lake capacity. Clark County recently concluded its own study of the watershed. It found the highest levels of phosphorus came from China Ditch and Lower 5th Plain Creek.
The Camas report indicates incoming water remains in Lacamas and Round lakes an average of 17 days before exiting through the city-owned dams. Depending on rain and water flow, the entire volume of water would mathematically be replaced 23 times a year. The water remains in the lake anywhere from 11 to 83 days according to the report.
A state Ecology Alternative Restoration Plan is expected to be completed in January 2025. Camas has received a $515,000 grant from the 2023-25 state budget. Many citizens are tired of waiting. They want the water cleaned up.
The Clark Conservation District offers numerous incentive programs that will help homeowners on septic systems repair or if needed, replace broken septic tanks in rural areas. All speakers emphasized that public education was a key piece of the puzzle.
Eliminating the phosphorus at the numerous source points is the key. Both Hauge and Wall agree on that need.
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