Restoring the Deschutes River Estuary Posted January 23, 2018 by Daron Williams

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Restoring the Deschutes River Estuary

During DERT’s third Facebook live chat we discussed where are we on restoring the Deschutes river estuary. What has happened in the past? And what are the next steps forward?

Each Saturday in the early afternoon DERT is live on Facebook to answer your questions and talk about restoring the Deschutes river estuary.

Sign up for DERT’s newsletter to learn more about the efforts to restore the Deschutes river estuary and to find out what you can do to help.

Working towards restoring the estuary

If you have been following our community’s efforts to restore the Deschutes river estuary then you can be forgiven for being frustrated on how slow this process has been. The first major step towards restoring the estuary took place back in 2003!

In 2003 the Capitol Lake Adaptive Management Plan (CLAMP) Steering Committee started a feasibility study to look at restoring the Deschutes river estuary. Over the course of six years the CLAMP committee made up of representatives from the City of Olympia, Port of Olympia, Squaxin Island Tribe, Thurston County, WA Department of Ecology, WA Department of Fish and Wildlife, and WA Department of Natural Resources worked on developing the feasibility study.

Ultimately the final CLAMP report was released in 2009 recommending restoring the Deschutes river estuary. But since the lake is still there you can guess that this recommendation was not followed. Due to the lack of action DERT was founded in 2009 and became a formal non-profit in 2011 to represent our community and keep pushing for restoration.

Deschutes River Estuary Restoration Taking the Long View from SplatterPUSS Entertainment on Vimeo.

CLAMP report key findings

The CLAMP report found that restoring the Deschutes river estuary was the best option due to three key reasons. The full report can be found here and goes into more details.

  1. A freshwater lake cannot meet state water quality standards.
  2. A restored estuary would provide 260 acres of estuarine habitat for diverse populations of native fish and wildlife.
  3. A restored estuary will improve water quality in lower Budd Inlet.
  4. Restoring the estuary is the most cost effective approach over the long-term.

Moving forward to restore the Deschutes river estuary

So the CLAMP report recommended restoring the Deschutes river estuary but it was essentially ignored. But thanks to the ongoing efforts of DERT and all of you we have managed to keep the conversation going.

In January, 2016 the Department of Enterprise Services (DES) which manages Capitol Lake started the first of three phases to develop a new overall plan to manage the lake.  Phase 1 was completed over the course of 2016 and resulted in a report that was submitted to the Legislature on Dec. 30, 2016.

This first phase consisted of a work group made up of tribal and local governmental representatives, and state agencies with input from our community. Through this process three alternatives were developed for management of Capitol Lake.

What is an alternative? An alternative is a way of referring to the different management strategies that could be implemented. The work group shifted through the possible alternatives and put together a final list of three.

  1. Restored Deschutes river estuary
  2. Dual basin – hybrid option
  3. Managed lake

DERT’s stance is that the preferred alternative is to restore the Deschutes river estuary. The hybrid option would result in a small reflecting pool of freshwater and a partially restored estuary. While this alternative is an improvement over the current lake it is also the most expensive restoration option.

The third alternative is in our view a dead end. The managed lake alternative would involve never ending dredging and continual water quality problems. This alternative is based on the false idea that we can force nature to fit our idealized image of a reflecting pool.

Steps to be taken in 2018

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With the passage of the Capitol Budget in January 2018 phase 2 of the process outlined above can start moving forward. Phase 2 will involve what is known as an environmental impact statement (EIS).

The EIS process will analyze the three alternatives selected in phase 1 to determine the potential project benefits and environmental impacts of each alternative. From this one of the alternatives will be recommended for implementation during phase 3 of this process.

During the EIS process there will be opportunities for community input. This is where you can make a difference by voicing your support for restoring the Deschutes river estuary. DERT will continue pushing to restore the estuary but we can’t do it with out your support.

To understand why restoring the estuary is important check out our post on the importance of estuaries.

Please sign up for our weekly newsletter to stay involved and help us ensure that the EIS process results in recommending the restoration of the Deschutes river estuary.

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