News and Events

Deschutes Watershed Guide

DERT just published the Deschutes Watershed Guide – a 16 page full color tribute to the environmental history of the Deschutes River and its watershed! Click on the image below to download the watershed guide. If you would like to receive a physical copy please email If you feel like sending a donation to DERT – although not required to receive a guide – you can send it to DERT; PO Box 11093; Olympia, WA 98508. Or click on the donate link on the right side of this page. Thanks!

Deschutes River Watershed Guide

March 25th Capitol Lake Meeting

Capitol Lake/Deschutes Estuary workgroup to meet March 25

A workgroup made up of local and tribal government representatives working on long-term planning for Capitol Lake/Deschutes estuary will meet from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. on Friday, March 25 at the 1500 Jefferson Street building in Olympia.

The agenda for the March 25 meeting includes a briefing on the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process, the workgroup’s implementation plan for coordinating their work in 2016, and an update on the public feedback gathered at a March 9 public open house.

The March 25 meeting agenda is posted on the Capitol Lake webpage.

In response to a 2015 Legislative directive, the Department of Enterprise Services asked representatives from the Squaxin Island Tribe, cities of Olympia and Tumwater, Thurston County and the Port of Olympia to assist with the long-term planning for Capitol Lake/Deschutes estuary.

Enterprise Services manages the 260-acre reservoir known as Capitol Lake as part of the 486-acre Capitol Campus.

Learn more about Capitol Lake management issues.

No public comment will be taken at the March 25 meeting. The next public open house where comment will be taken is tentatively scheduled for mid-April.

What:   Capitol Lake/Deschutes estuary meeting
When:   Friday, March 25, from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m.
Where:  1500 Jefferson Street building, room 2208

The 1500 Jefferson Street building is located between 14th Avenue and Maple Park Avenue in Olympia, just south of the roundabout. Get directions.

Capitol Lake Public Open House

State to host Capitol Lake public open house March 9

The Department of Enterprise Services will host a public open house to present and gain feedback on a draft work plan to develop strategies for the long-term management of Capitol Lake on Wednesday, March 9. It will be held from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the 1500 Jefferson Street building in Olympia.

The 2015 Legislature directed Enterprise Services to make progress in reaching stakeholder and public agreement about the long-term management of Capitol Lake, building on the recommendations from the 2014 Ruckelshaus Center Situation Assessment report and other past work.

An executive work group, with representatives from the Squaxin Island Tribe, cities of Olympia and Tumwater, Thurston County and the Port of Olympia, has met twice, mostly recently on Feb. 26. At that meeting, the committee discussed a work plan for accomplishing the Legislative directive over the coming months.

Enterprise Services must develop a report that summarizes the work of the committee and public input and submit it to the Legislature by Jan. 1, 2017.

Public input sought on draft work plan

Now, it is time for the public to begin to weigh in on the draft work plan.

The department and the committee are seeking public comment on:

  • The work plan the committee discussed at the Feb. 26 meeting. A copy of the draft work plan will be available at the meeting.
  • When and how public engagement would be most beneficial during the committee’s year-long effort.

Enterprise Services is not yet seeking comment about whether to retain the lake, convert it to an estuary or to create a hybrid option.  

Opportunities for public input will be scheduled throughout the coming months on the following topics:

  • Best available science
  • Shared funding to manage Capitol Lake
  • Shared governance of Capitol Lake
  • Hybrid options for a lake/estuary in which freshwater from the Deschutes River would mix with the saltwater of Puget Sound
  • Other related activities including sediment management and flood mitigation

Learn more about Capitol Lake management issues.

Meeting information

What:    Capitol Lake public open house

When:    Wednesday, March 9, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.

Where:    1500 Jefferson Street building, room 2208

The 1500 Jefferson Street building is located between 14th Avenue and Maple Park Avenue in Olympia, just south of the roundabout. Get directions.

Restoring the Deschutes Estuary to its Natural Flow

by Glen Anderson, producer and host of this TV series

The Olympia Fellowship of Reconciliation’s December 2014 TV program, “Restoring the Deschutes River to its Natural Flow,” will air three times a week during December – every Monday afternoon at 1:30 pm, every Wednesday afternoon at 5:00 pm, and every Thursday evening at 9:00 pm on Thurston Community Television (TCTV) cable channel 31 for cable TV subscribers in Thurston County.

Even if you live elsewhere or don’t have cable TV, you can watch this program anytime from anywhere:

The Olympia Fellowship of Reconciliation’s December 2014 TV program examines an environmental problem that has hurt the greater Olympia and south Puget Sound areas for more than half a century – the problems in the waters near the west side of downtown Olympia where the 5th Avenue dam prevents the Deschutes River flow freely into Budd Inlet, the southernmost tip of Puget Sound.

Only in the past few years have people been organizing vigorously to solve the problems with this natural solution.  Two knowledgeable and articulate guests help us explore this topic.  Both are active with the Deschutes Estuary Restoration Team (DERT):

Dave Peeler is President of DERT’s Board and has 40 years of professional scientific experience working on environmental issues, with special expertise in water quality.

Helen Wheatley is an historian who has extensively studied the history of the 5th Avenue dam and Capitol Lake.  During this hour she will show photos – some historical and some recent – to illustrate the case for removing the 5th Avenue dam and letting the Deschutes River run freely through a natural estuary.

A basic environmental principle is that Mother Nature knows best, and we should avoid disrupting natural ecosystems, such as the estuaries where rivers flow into salt water.  Another basic environmental principle is that Mother Nature is resilient.  If we would remove the dam and stop causing the damage, Mother Nature could do a lot to restore and heal the natural ecosystem.

Throughout the program, Helen provides a number of historical photos and two videos that help viewers see the specific area and understand the problems and solutions.

Dave explains what an estuary is and how an estuary works.

Helen provides interesting history about the background that led to the 5th Avenue dam, and some misconceptions that occurred then and have persisted since.

Our guests explain the scientific issues about water flow and circulation, and how the dam impairs those and causes unhealthily low levels of dissolved oxygen in the water.  They explain the algae that plagues the lake, and the interactions of water quality elsewhere in Puget Sound.

They explain the continual problems related to sediment that flows downstream in the Deschutes River and settles in Capitol Lake because the dam prevents it from flowing out.

They discuss the dam’s hurtful implications for fish.

A local non-profit organization, the Deschutes Estuary Restoration Team (DERT) (see contact information below) has been working to solve the problems and has produced recommendations for removing the dam and restoring the Deschutes Estuary to a natural ebb and flow that would significantly improve water quality and the health and sustainability of local plants and animals.

Our guests also explain the governmental involvement in the issue.  Many entities have a hand in this local area, so it’s hard to reach decisions, but progress is underway.

Yet another complexity is public opinion, which is mixed and sometimes misinformed.  Often it is hard to let go of the artificial status quo and choose a more natural future.  But if we do, we will find it more satisfying for us, besides being better for the environment.

Indeed, Western Washington has two good recent examples of success stories:

—  At the Nisqually Delta, we removed the dikes and allowed the Nisqually River estuary to return to a more natural ecosystem.  While some people were apprehensive about doing this, now the results are wildly popular besides being better for the environment.

—  On the Olympic Peninsula’s Elwha River, we removed the dam, and salmon runs have vastly increased beyond our wildest hopes.

For more information, contact the Deschutes Estuary Restoration Team (DERT).  You can e-mail them at, visit their website,, or write to them at DERT, PO Box 11093, Olympia WA 98508.

Our guests recommended two governmental sources of information about this:

The Washington State Dept. of Ecology has info about “Deschutes/Budd Inlet TMDL at

The Washington State Dept. of Enterprise Services has info about Capitol Lake at

Scientists defend water quality studies, Tribe tells of low salmon survival

Ecology Hosts Technical Discussion on Water Quality in Capitol Lake


By Dani Madrone

On November 3, 2014, Ecology hosted a discussion for scientists, modelers, and reviewers of the technical studies related to Capitol Lake and Budd Inlet to identify specific areas of agreement and disagreement on the conclusions. Attending this meeting were three scientists from Ecology, Dr. David Milne and two others from the Capitol Lake Improvement and Protection Association (CLIPA), a representative from Squaxin Island and their technical reviewer, Dr. Jonathon Frodge, and a representative from DERT.

Ecology presented their modeling that demonstrated that, with the 5th Avenue dam in place, the Deschutes Watershed will not meet EPA requirements for dissolved oxygen under the Clean Water Act, explaining the nationally accredited modeling protocol and the results. Milne countered that the modeling did not provide accurate results and was not appropriate for the research.

Dr. Mindy Roberts of Ecology stated, “The model has gone through several stages of very well documented calibration and review by outside experts. We are confident in the model.”

Scott Steltzner of Squaxin Natural Resources reminded everyone the Tribe is a government agency co-managing natural resources. They are pro-science, not necessarily pro- estuary. He also described several regional, state and federal processes with technical committees that had also reached the conclusion of estuary restoration.

Overall, south Budd Inlet is affected by invasive species, altered circulation patterns due to the dam, a shallow and warm basin with excessive algae, water quality issues, and poor salmonid survival.

Milne’s paper was never formally peer-reviewed, and sub- mitted as proof of the benefits of Capitol Lake before being reviewed by the many technical teams involved in this process. The Tribe had Milne’s analysis independently reviewed by Dr. Jonathon Frodge, past president of the Washington State Lake Protection Association, who found he ignored changes in circulation patterns and effects on plant decomposition on water quality. Frodge also stated that both Ecology and Milne ignored the significant issue of the impacts of invasive species.

Steltzner alerted everyone of the concerns around salmon mortality. “We have an introduced hatchery Chinook run that has one of the lowest survival rates in all of Puget Sound. We also have an introduced but naturally producing coho run that is declining, and the one year class is functionally extinct. This is in contrast to other runs in South Sound that are staying steady or actually going up.”


Frodge backed his claim. “I think it’s related to the dense growth macrophytes. In Lake Washington, we got significant mortality… survival of smolts below dense beds of macrophytes was zero, equated to low dissolved oxygen. When you look at Capitol Lake, the actual amount of habitat for out-migrating smolts is significantly less than the actual surface area.”

Frodge also stated, “The issue with Capitol Lake is that it is an impoundment in a very wrong spot that creates more environmental problems then the primary benefit… of a reflective pool for the Capitol. If I were biased, it would be towards preservation of lakes, but in my opinion, Capitol Lake is not really a lake. It’s an impoundment in an area that functionally should be an estuary.”

During the discussion that followed these presentations, CLIPA did not address these issues. Instead, they continued to debate the validity of the model and the merit of the process. Roberts defended Ecology’s work, stating they have established confidence in the model and have followed a good protocol. Ecology sought feedback from the TMDL technical advisory group, identifying potential scenarios and priorities to model. CLIPA participated in this process, and the study was peer-reviewed twice.

Roberts responded to CLIPA’s uncompromising challenges by stating, “I’m sorry that it does not support the position that you have, but when you look at it from a scientific perspective, this model is a way to dispassionately understand the impacts… We need to move on.”

The documents and audio from this meeting can be found here:
Agenda – November 3, 2014
Draft science summary statements – Mindy Roberts, Ecology
Materials for Budd Inlet and Capitol Lake Science Meeting Presentation Slides – Anise Ahmed, Greg Pelletier, Mindy Roberts, Ecology
Modeling Budd Inlet. II. Sharpening & Validating the Tools Presentation Slides – David Milne
Recommendations for further refinement of the Budd Inlet simulations – David Milne
Squaxin Island Tribe, Natural Resources Department, Project Review, Presentation Slides – Scott Steltzner, Squaxin Island Tribe
Capitol Lake/Budd Inlet Technical Discussion Summary – Lydia Wagner, Ecology
Capitol Lake/Budd Inlet Technical Discussion Audio Recording – This is an mp3 file.

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_01Where 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.”