How the Deschutes River estuary came to be dammed in the 1950s has been a heated topic locally the last few years. A history of the local efforts to dam the estuary and create Capitol Lake is now available.
The history covers the time from just after statehood when the first dam was proposed to just after World War II when the funding for Capitol Lake became available. The piece refutes the position that the lake was entirely inspired by the “City Beautiful” design of Wilder and White in the 1911 proposal for the capitol campus.
Myth #1: Restoring the estuary would exposes stinky mudflats.
Actually, the north basin of Capitol Lake would remain filled 80 percent of the time. If the estuary were restored, we wouldn’t be trading a beautiful lake for a swamp. When the estuary is restored, there will be clean and healthy water in the basin 80 percent of the time, instead of unhealthy water all the time.
All four restoration alternatives show little to no difference in the amount of submerged or exposed lake bottom. The model predicts that the North Basin, much of the Middle Basin, and the main channel, which would reform quickly after dam removal, would be under water 80% of the time.
Myth #2: If we just cleaned up the Deschutes River, the problems with Capitol Lake would disappear.
The truth is that Capitol Lake’s issues have to do with the shape of the lake itself, not with anything happening in the upper watershed. Restoring the upper watershed is a great idea, but it wouldn’t do much to solve water quality problems in Capitol Lake.
In fact, most of the water quality problems associated with Capitol Lake are actually caused by Capitol Lake. For example, most of the low dissolved oxygen in southern Budd Inlet is caused by the lake and to get rid of all the algae in the summer, the lake would need to be 300 feet deep.
Myth #3: Water quality standards change between an estuary and a lake
The myth goes that so restoring the estuary won’t really clean up water, it will just move the goal posts. Actually, the standards for an estuary and a lake read the same way. The fact is that water quality standards for Budd Inlet are the same as Capitol Lake, and that restoring the estuary will improve water quality.
Myth #4: Capitol Lake was part of the original design for the capitol campus
While impounding the mouth of the Deschutes River was mentioned by the original architects of today’s capitol campus, it was proposed at least twice before, was strongly opposed by local residents for decades and was not thought of as a main part of the campus itself.
Myth #5: Salmon wouldn’t benefit from a restored Deschutes Estuary
Even though there is no native run of salmon on the Deschutes River, salmon from all over Puget Sound will see a benefit from a restored Deschutes Estuary. One of the primary functions of estuaries is providing habitat for juvenile salmon that were born in some other watershed.
You can take a look at the report yourself, but the peer-review included seven independent researchers combing over all the technical aspects of the estuary studies. While CLIPA calls for “a peer review of just the dredging and capital improvement issues,” the review that has already been conducted included reviews of “Sediment Transport & Hydraulic Modeling” and “Engineering Design and Cost Estimating.” The other areas reviewed are “Reference Estuary Study and Biological Conditions ” and ”Net Benefits Analysis.”
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