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  • Writer's pictureLeslie Lewallen

Lacamas Lake is Being Destroyed By Inaction

JUNE 3, 2021; CAMAS,WA

Did You Know Lacamas Lake is Sick?

Imagine you are sick. You go to the doctor and find out that you have an infectious disease. Your diagnosis is serious and will only get worse if left alone. You’ve done your due diligence and you’ve gotten a second opinion, and it’s the same – you are sick and it’s contagious. You are told that there could be numerous sources of infection, but they had identified at least one source of the disease already.

Would you want treatment on that one known source of infection immediately? Or, would you want doctors to wait, do a full body scan, spend months researching and studying every possible infection site before even coming up with a plan of treatment?

The simple answer is no. You would want the doctors to start to treat the infected site immediately, while they continued to monitor your body and your health. This would stop your disease from getting worse, and stop you from spreading the disease to others.

It’s a reasonably common practice. But unfortunately, that reasonable and common-sense approach is being ignored in Camas by our City Council.

Lacamas Lake is sick. The water is not safe, and the problem is getting worse. One known source of major infection is the failed biofilter at Lacamas Shores. There is a legal obligation and requirement to fix that biofilter and the City needs to allow that legal obligation to be met. Once that infection site is cleaned up and healed, the City, Clark County, the Department of Ecology and others can continue their “body scan” of Lacamas Lake to identify and treat other sources of infection. But we cannot and should not wait. Not when we have a known problem with a legal and readily available solution that can be implemented immediately. A treatment plan that begins with a known cure to a known problem..

I’ve set forth the “medical history” of Lacamas Lake, and here are my findings:

Did you know that the Department of Ecology and the City of Camas have known since at least 2011 that Lacamas Lake and its tributaries do not meet Washington State’s water quality standards?

Did you know that the toxic algae in Lacamas Lake is harmful and even deadly to wildlife, pets and humans?

Did you know that there are a number of pet deaths attributed to animals drinking from polluted lakes each year?

Did you know that these toxins attack the liver or nervous system and that a Wisconsin teenage boy’s death was attributed to ingestion of water polluted with these same type of toxic algae found in Lacamas Lake?

Did you know that despite the city, county and the State knowing about the Lake’s failing grades of State water quality standards for years, it was only this April when the city and the Department of Ecology decided to “take first steps” toward cleaning up the lake? (See Post-Record, Kelly Moyer, April 22, 2021).

Did you know that those “first steps” identified by the city include a paid study to consultants that will take months to conduct?

Did you know that under the city’s plan, it will be a MINIMUM of two more years of allowing these failed State Water Quality Standards to exist while they continue to “study” the situation.

Did you know the city admitted to knowing about pollution and identified the toxic algae as is the number one problem? As quoted in Kelly Moyer’s article dated April, 22 2021:

“Then, in 2018, the lake – known as the “crown jewel of Camas—experienced two toxic algae blooms. By 2019, the algae, which can sicken humans and kill pets, came back at least five times. And by 2020, Lacamas Lake was experiencing what the city of Camas staff recently called “near-continual toxic algae blooms” throughout the spring, summer and fall.” (See Post-Record, Kelly Moyer, April 22, 2021, quoting Camas Public Works Director, Steve Hall).

Did you know that after this “study”, the city views the clean-up of the lake as a “process” – a long drawn out 20 year plan? (See Post-Record, Kelly Moyer, April 22, 2021, quoting Councilmember Steve Hogan).

Did you know that a Camas citizen, Marie Tabata, a retired attorney, has already provided the city – free of charge -- a consultant level report identifying that Lacamas Shores Home Owner’s Association’s (LSHOA) failed biofilter is pouring toxic algae’s favorite food right where toxic algae happens to grow?

Did you know that as far back as 1988, prior to approving the construction of the Lacamas Shores subdivision, the Department of Ecology conditioned their permit on requiring the LSHOA to construct and maintain a functioning biofilter to ensure pollution into Lacamas Lake did not increase?

Did you know that this same failed biofilter has been a proven source of the toxic algae pollution in Lacamas Lake?

Did you know that the city of Camas has PREVENTED the LSHOA from carrying out their legal obligation to maintain the biofilter? (The former city administrator wrote a letter prohibiting the neighborhood association from fixing their failed biofilter.).

Did you know that a perpetually maintained biofilter was a condition to build the subdivision in the first place- and its disrepair has now become a major source of pollution into the lake?

Did you know that the biofilter is actually a man-made “wetland''?

Did you know that man-made wetlands do not receive the same legal protections as natural wetlands?

Did you know the man-made bio-filter in question was specifically designed to be dredged and harvested (not protected) for the biofilter to work properly and to naturally filter out sediment and pollutants?

Did you know that a man-made biofilter cannot become a natural wetland? (The definitions, purpose and legal protections are not the same.)

Did you know that other cities and counties in Washington State have successfully addressed this same or similar problem and we could have consulted with them, rather than paying more consultants?

WHY has the City prevented the cleanup of the biofilter? Why hasn’t the city acted immediately to remedy a known source of pollution??? What is the City of Camas waiting for? Why is the buck being passed and accountability and responsibility avoided? Why is a known problem with immediate solutions being ignored or overlooked?

I don’t have the answers to those questions or why the City did not address this problem years ago. But I do know that the city needs to take immediate action – Camas cannot afford to wait for some toxic tragedy to occur as a wakeup call.

The solution is simple, legally required and available now. the City needs to step out of the way of LSHOA’s 1998 legal requirement to clean, fix and maintain their biofilter. While that source of pollution is being fixed, the City and Department of Ecology will have a clearer picture of other possible sources of pollution and can address those concerns more adequately during their proposed 20-year process.

In addition, instead of outsourcing our money and decisions to outside consultants, the City of Camas should look to its neighboring cities and counties for solutions they have used. For example, in Thurston County and Kitsap County, Lakes are being treated with Phoslock in order to improve the oxygen quality of the lake.

To summarize: Lacamas Lake is sick and it’s making others sick. The City has known about this for years, as well as one of the primary sources of infection -- the failed biofilter at Lacamas Shores. We need to treat the lake now. There is a legal obligation to fix the failed biofilter and get Lacamas Lake up to State water quality standards. Once that infection site is cleaned up and healed, the City, Department of Ecology and others can continue their “body scan” of Lacamas Lake to identify and treat other possible sources of infection and make sure our water is safe.


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