Video: The Power of a River

Produced by DERT Board member Helen Wheatley, this video illustrates just how powerful the Deschutes River can be with stormwater surges, and the problem Capitol Lake poses as sediments are pushed down the river during floods.

Five reasons to restore the Deschutes Estuary

1. Restoring the estuary preserves the reflecting pool below our state capitol

Capitol Lake Trim 80 Percent 300x172 Five reasons to restore the Deschutes Estuary

The northern basin of what is now Capitol Lake would remain filled 80 percent of the time if the estuary were to be restored. So, 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.

Here’s a quote from one of the estuary studies:

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.

2. Restoring the estuary will increase water quality

Current day 207x300 Five reasons to restore the Deschutes Estuary

Capitol Lake causes most of the dissolved oxygen issues in Budd Inlet

Most of the water quality issues facing Capitol Lake have to do with the shape of the lake itself. Capitol Lake is far too shallow and far too stagnant to handle the natural load of sediments that are carried into it by the Deschutes River.

There is very little that can be done above Capitol Lake to solve its water quality issues.

In fact, Capitol Lake is the reason we have low dissolved oxygen issues in Budd Inlet.

And, there is no practical way to dredge the lake to increasing water quality. In fact, the lake would have to be 300 feet deep to be healthy.

3. Restoring the estuary helps salmon from across Puget Sound

Deschutes salmon larger map 231x300 Five reasons to restore the Deschutes EstuaryEven though there is no evidence of 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 other watersheds.

A recent restoration of the Beachcrest estuary by the South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group is a great example of this. While opening the Beachcrest pocket estuary provides minimal spawning habitat, the real benefit is to juvenile salmon, especially those from the nearby Nisqually River.

Recent surveys by the Squaxin Island Tribe show the vast numbers of salmon coming from outside our area that would benefit from a restored Deschutes Estuary.

4. Restoring the estuary has community support

There is not only vocal support for restoration, but when you look at public opinion polling, the values of local residents line up with healing the Deschutes estuary.

In 2009, the group charged with implementing the Capitol Lake Adaptive Management Plan (CLAMP) and studying estuary restoration conducted a public process on the future of the lake. The responses in that process were certainly pro-restoration.

When you look at CLAMP comment data, support for the estuary is strong. A strong majority (55 percent) of people commenting during the CLAMP process supported the estuary, while less than 30 percent voiced a desire for a managed lake. The rest of the comments either preferred the status-quo, a dual basin (less than 5 percent) or had no preference.

During the same time, the city of Olympia also commissioned a survey. That poll shows the values Olympia residents are bringing to the debate line up behind restoration.

In the Olympia survey, 70 percent said that water quality, fish and wildlife was their most important consideration, and 74 percent said it was “extremely important.”

  • 59 percent said that keeping the cost the taxpayers low was either important or very important (44 percent). This is an important point, since one time costs associated with restoring the estuary are lower than continued costs maintaining a lake.
  • Only 11 percent said that maintaining the look of the lake was their most important consideration. And, since restoring the estuary would mean the northern basin of the lake would stay filled 8o percent of the time, the look of the lake would be largely unchanged.

5. Restoring the estuary is the least expensive option

Restoring the Estuary is a long-term solution, compared to the ongoing costs associated with maintaining an artifice lake.

Costs have been estimated at between $114.5 and $224.5 million.

Value to the environment and public health is immeasurable.  There would be clean water and recreational use once again.

Managing the Lake is a short-term and unsustainable project. Costs have been estimated at between $191.6 and $321.4 million over a 50 year period of continued dredging and disposal.   Water quality would continue to decline and the lake would have to remain closed to public use.

How deep does Capitol Lake need to be to be healthy? 300 feet.

algea lake How deep does Capitol Lake need to be to be healthy? 300 feet.Every summer Capitol Lake is blanketed with a thick layer of green algae. While it obviously unsightly, it is also a sign of a sick body of water. The algae growth indicates an unbalanced system, a stagnant, warm lake that has too much phosphorus for its size and shape.

A lot of people think it would be an easy fix to get rid of the algae, just dredge the lake back to where it was in the 1980s. But, the reason the lake was clear of algae back then was because of saltwater flushing. This practice was ended years ago because of obvious impacts to water quality in lower Budd Inlet.

To really get rid of the algae every summer with dredging, you would need to go deeper than 13 feet. Way deeper. Like 300 feet.

Seriously, 300 feet.

This fact is explained in a letter from the state Department of Ecology in 2009 to the then Department of General Administration. A GA staffer asked DOE what the impact would be of dredging to 13 feet on several water quality factors:

What would be the effect of implementing both the shading improvements and the lake dredging on the lake and Budd Inlet relative to the five TMDL water quality factors (dissolved oxygen, temperature, PH, fecal coliform bacteria and find sediment)?

The answer:

Combining upland improvement and deepening the lake also would not resolve water quality issues within Capitol Lake… Because Capitol Lake currently and under the dredged lake alternative falls well within the eutrophic range, based on available indices, these improvements are unlikely to translate into measurable or significant lake improvements. No changes are expected in Budd Inlet either.

You can read the entire letter here.

Capitol Lake is eutrophic. Meaning, in the case of Capitol Lake, there is extremely low dissolved oxygen and annual algae blooms.

For both the current and dredged lake alternatives, the combination of phosphorus loading and lake geometry plots wells into the eutrphohic zones… The dredged lake alternative would still fall well into the eutrophic range, either for the annual loading or for only the summer loading rate.

Without reductions in the areal phosphorus loading rate, the lake depth would need to be >100 m (300 feet) to fall into the mesotrohpic (or healthy) range… With the propoposed nominal depth of 14 ft (4.0 m), the annual areal loading rate would need to be reduced one to three orders of magnitude to achieve the mesotrophic range.

The problem is then, that 75 percent of the sediment load (which carries algae causing phosphorus into the lake) is natural. So, even under natural conditions, Capitol Lake is too shallow would never be healthy.

But, why isn’t there the same phosphorus problem with an estuary?

Well, simply put, places like Budd Inlet are supposed to get a lot of phosphorus. Most of the phosphorus coming down the watershed is natural and it always used to end up in Budd Inlet with no ill-effects (this is shortly described in a GA document here.

What is unnatural is trapping it in a shallow, stagnant lake. That causes algae blooms and low dissolved oxygen. Letting the natural phosphorus load go naturally out into the saltwater doesn’t cause the same thing to happen.