First phase of Camas’ lake cleanup plan underway

90-day ‘Phase I’ will determine data collection needed in more extensive ‘Phase II’

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A toxic-algae warning sign is posted next to Lacamas Lake in Camas on July 20, 2020. (Kelly Moyer/Post-Record files)

With initial research and outreach well underway, Camas officials are now eyeing the start of the second, more extensive, piece of the city’s two-phase lake management plan.

“In mid- to late June, we got started with Phase 1,” Camas Public Works Director Steve Wall told Camas City Council members and Interim Mayor Ellen Burton at the Council’s Aug. 2 workshop.

Wall said the first phase of the lake cleanup plan was meant to establish a firm, research-based foundation that would determine the type of data collection and public outreach needed in phase two and for long-term water quality management within Camas’ Lacamas, Round and Fallen Leaf lakes.

“The idea wasn’t to just jump in and make assumptions about what we think may or may not work,” Wall told city officials on Aug. 2. “We want to base this on the science. We have to figure out what’s going on (with the lakes’ water quality) and what the current conditions are.”

In November 2020, the council voted unanimously to form a Lacamas Creek watershed committee to investigate and advise the city on water quality topics related to the Lacamas Creek watershed and approved spending up to $300,000 — funded by the city’s stormwater utility fund and available grants — to create lake management plans for Lacamas, Round and Fallen Leaf lakes, establish water quality goals and develop strategies that will improve the lakes’ water quality and, eventually, help prevent toxic algae blooms.

The city hired consultants in the spring and got started on the first phase of the lake management plan in mid-June. The first phase is expected to wrap up in mid-September.

With the help of outside consultants from Geosyntec Consultants, MacKay Sposito and JLA Public Involvement, the city has been reaching out to stakeholders to better understand the community’s goals for the Camas lakes, which have recently been plagued by toxic algal outbreaks harmful to humans and pets, to find more grant funding opportunities, pore over the water quality research conducted on the lakes since the mid-1980s and look for short-term fixes the city might be able to implement sooner rather than later to help improve the lakes’ water quality.

The first phase is expected to take 90 days, Wall said, and will come up with a work plan for the second phase, “which is when we get into developing the lake management plan, which will include short- and long-term solutions.”

Rob Annear, with Geosyntec Consultants, briefed the city council members on some of the things consultants and city staff have already learned during the first phase of the lake management plan.

“Lacamas Creek accounted for the majority of phosphorus inflows to Lacamas and Round lakes in the 1980s,” Annear said. “We have to check to see if this is still true. Reducing phosphorus loading to the creek from the watershed will be necessary to reduce the occurrence of algal blooms.”

Since there have been no “serious” studies on the lakes’ water quality since the mid-2000s, Annear added, “it is important to determine the sources coming into and out of the lake … so we know where to focus our efforts in the future.”

The consultant said the city will likely need to do some sediment sampling during the second phase of the lake management plan to determine if bound phosphorus is being released into the water. The city also may be able to use the dams controlling water levels on Lacamas and Round lakes to help control water conditions, Annear said.

“We’re still working on phase one,” Wall told the Council. “We have more stakeholder outreach to do and will be getting in front of the parks commission later this month, and setting up meetings with council members to get individual feedback.”

Asked by City Councilwoman Shannon Roberts to help explain why the process of cleaning up the city’s lakes might be lengthier than many residents had hoped, Wall said the city is relying on scientific data and building on prior research to help figure out the lakes’ water quality issues and move forward with short- and long-term fixes.

“It does take a while to develop the data and figure out what the current conditions are so we have a better understanding of what’s happening and how to move forward,” Wall said. “On the immediate front, phase one is really meant to look at those projects, outreach and educational opportunities we can move on in the immediate future … things we can do while we develop the full lake management plan.”

State investigating pollution sources in Lacamas Creek watershed

While the city is busy tackling pollution sources that are directly discharging into the city’s lakes, the state’s Department of Ecology will be looking for pollution sources upstream, in the 67-square-mile Lacamas Creek watershed.

Devan Rostorfer, a water quality specialist with Ecology, told the Post-Record earlier this year that it is important for people to understand that Lacamas Lake’s water quality issues may be connected to pollution sources as far as 18 miles away in Vancouver’s Orchards neighborhood, where the Lacamas Creek watershed begins and throughout the entire watershed.

“There is a connection between what’s happening upstream in the watershed to what’s happening downstream in the lake,” Rostorfer said. “So we will need action from people who don’t live near the lake … who may not even visit the lake.”

On April 16, Ecology staff met with officials from the city of Camas, Clark County, the Washington State Department of Agriculture, the Clark Conservation District and the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to discuss the kickoff of Ecology’s Lacamas Creek Partnership, a project that will work with local, state, federal and tribal governments, as well as nonprofit watershed groups and private landowners, to develop and implement a water cleanup plan for the Lacamas Creek watershed.

“An important reason for focusing on Lacamas Creek and its tributaries is that they currently do not meet Washington state’s water quality standards for multiple parameters (including) bacteria, dissolved oxygen, pH and temperature,” Ecology staff told the local, state and federal partners during the April meeting. “This emphasizes the importance of prioritizing Lacamas Creek for water quality improvement.”

The watershed consists of 67 square miles of land that is primarily forested (35 percent) or used as pasture land or for agricultural purposes (25 percent). Less than 5 percent of the land is wetlands and 16 percent is developed and used for residential, commercial and industrial purposes. Only about one-fifth of the land is owned by the public. The rest is under private ownership.

The current timeline calls for water quality monitoring and data collection to begin in June and be completed in October. Ecology will complete a technical analysis of the data in August 2022, and complete a draft source assessment report identifying critical areas for water quality improvement by April 2023. The water cleanup plan, with its focus on implementing remedies to watershed pollution sources, will begin in May 2023.

“We believe that, by 2023, we will have a clearer picture of water quality challenges (in the Lacamas Creek watershed),” Rostorfer said. “If there are things we can do over the next two years to help — if there are owners interested in improving their agricultural pastures or getting their septic systems fixed or planting trees on their property — that is great, but this will be a long-term project.”

For more information, including updates on water-quality monitoring within the watershed, visit the Lacamas Creek Partnership’s website at nership.