Milne’s thesis falls apart under review

Over the past few weeks, Dr. David Milne has been rolling out an interesting thesis that Capitol Lake is actually a benefit to the local environment. I don’t want to spend too much time going back over what he’s presented, but I wanted to point out what happens when people who don’t already support Capitol Lake or are ex-colleagues of Milne take a look at his thesis.

At the request of the Squaxin Island Tribe, Jonathan Frodge (CV), board member and past president of the Washington Lakes Protection Association, provided a review of Milne’s paper.

In response to Milne’s points that “I find that the Lake does not have negative effects on Budd Inlet and that the Lake improves the water quality of the Inlet”, and that “Capitol Lake is the Deschutes River Watershed’s biggest and best asset for preventing and reducing water quality degradation in Budd Inlet” Frodge wrote “While this report raises some valid points, I do not agree with either of the above statements.”

Dr. Frodge goes into detail concerning the shortcomings in Dr. Milne’s paper. You can read Frodge’s entire review here.

The Department of Ecology also directly responded to Milne, provided much needed context to his thesis. Their response boils down to that Milne ignores the impact of organic carbon:

Plant growth in Capitol Lake discharges more organic carbon to Budd Inlet than would occur if the Deschutes River and Percival Creek flowed into Budd Inlet directly. As the organic carbon decays, oxygen is used up in the process. This causes lower oxygen levels than would occur without the dam in place.

Lastly, it’s interesting to take a look at what kind of independent review Milne did get before releasing his thesis. This is from a letter from the Squaxin Island Tribe:

A document claiming to be a “Peer Review” was included with Dr. Milne’s paper. It was less than two pages long and simply consisted of copies of emails from four individuals stating that the paper had been reviewed. Most responses consisted of one or two sentences and none found any issues with the paper. Tribal staff asked for the actual review papers, not the emails, and were told that the two page document was the “peer review”. The review of Dr. Milne’s paper was conducted by what appears to be four current and past faculty members of Evergreen State College. Curriculum vitae or statements of experience were not included as would be expected in an open review.

Based upon information available through Evergreen the credentials of the reviewers appear to be:

  • Dr. Gerardo Chin-Leo, Ph.D. – oceanography and marine biology
  • Dr. Erik Thuesen, Ph.D. – marine biology
  • Oscar H. Soule, Ph.D. – ecology
  • Kaye V Ladd, Ph.D. – inorganic chemistry

Other than Dr. Chin-Leo with his background in oceanography, the review group appears to have different backgrounds than would be expected for a review of a TMDL and its related modeling. This would not necessarily disqualify these outside reviewers; however, Tribal staff found it odd that reviewers whose expertise is for the most part outside of the subject area and who found no issues at all with a paper that essentially seeks to overturn the work of highly qualified personnel provided no meaningful review comments.

On the other hand, the original research by the state Department of Ecology that Milne was criticizing has gone through several rounds of technical review over the last four years. You can read hundreds of pages of this review process (including emails between state staff and reviewers) below:

If you ignore the carbon, sure Capitol Lake is good

There will likely be a lot of talk about the work of Dr. David Milne about water quality and the Deschutes Estuary. You can read Milne’s entire work here, but you would be better served taking a look at the original work by the Department of Ecology here. Milne tries to refute years of scientific research and examination by Ecology staff, but he ends up ignoring a major reason for low water quality in Budd Inlet.

This poster that Ecology put together for the Salish Sea Conference does a good job of explaining exactly how Capitol Lake is the cause of water quality problems in Budd Inlet. The poster undercuts his main thesis that the presence of the lake increases the amount of dissolved oxygen in Budd Inlet compared to an estuary.

Dr. Milne was correct that the Lake condition allows less nitrogen to enter the Inlet; however, he completely ignores the issue where the increase in carbon from a lake condition decreases dissolved oxygen. Comparing the two scenarios where “lake = less nitrogen” versus “lake = more carbon” output shows that there is lower D.O. from the lake’s carbon.

1403021 01 981x1024 If you ignore the carbon, sure Capitol Lake is goodWhere does all this carbon come from? We’re all familiar with the large green mats of algae that grow in Capitol Lake during the summer. All of these algae mats eventually die off. And, when they do, they release large amounts of carbon that drive down the dissolved oxygen in Budd Inlet.

There are some very strong statements presented in the poster.

“The effects of Capitol Lake dam, even with only natural nutrient loads, also do not meet DO standards in Budd Inlet.”

“Both the magnitude and extent of DO standard violations are higher with the lake in place compared with if the lake is converted into an estuary.”

“The dam alone causes a DO depletion of about 2 mg/L.”

“Decreased DO in the critical areas of East Bay in Budd Inlet is due to increased residence time due to discharge at Capitol Lake dam which tends to “trap” the water in East Bay.”