Lake cleanup will take time, money, policies to fight climate change

Camas lakes had a reprieve from toxic algae this summer, but the fact that the dangerous blooms have returned to Lacamas and Round lakes is not surprising.

The algal blooms, after all, have been a growing problem in Camas for a few years. In 2020, toxic algal blooms were a near-constant presence in Lacamas Lake, even during the winter months, and several Camas City Council candidates made cleaning up Lacamas Lake a centerpiece of their primary election campaigns.

Voters, however, showed little love to candidates who knew the lakes’ cleanup will be a yearslong, detailed process, throwing their support instead to a candidate who falsely claimed during a League of Women Voters candidate forum that “we know what the problem is” with Lacamas Lake’s frequent algal blooms and “don’t need to study it anymore.”

Unfortunately for Camas residents, while promoting a quick and inexpensive fix to Lacamas Lake’s algae problems may be an appealing campaign slogan, it simply doesn’t exist. Instead, water quality experts have said it will take several years worth of research and outreach to private property owners, dairy farmers and industries within the nearly 70-square-acre Lacamas Creek watershed that feeds into Lacamas Lake to provide long-term solutions.

This will not be an easy fix. And voters who truly believe city officials can find a magic solution to a multi-pronged problem without hiring consultants, doing extensive water testing or implementing restrictions on private property owners are setting themselves up for a giant disappointment when the toxic algae, fed by the nitrogen and phosphorus flowing into the lake from the Lacamas Creek watershed, makes its inevitable return each summer.

Instead, voters who really care about Camas’ lakes and natural areas should concentrate on electing local and state officials who are dedicated to partnering with regional, state and federal agencies and who will be able to make the tough choices it’s going to take to cleanup Camas’ lakes for good.

Voters also need to concentrate on electing officials who will sponsor and promote solutions to climate change if they hope to sustain any gains city leaders and state agencies might make in their efforts to clear Camas’ lakes of toxic algae.

According to a study published in the October 2019 Nature, not only are toxic algal blooms becoming more common in freshwater lakes, but increasing water temperatures, primarily due to climate change, are linked to chronic algal blooms.

Washington state recently made enormous strides in the battle against climate change after the Democratically controlled state legislature passed several anti-climate change bills, including HB 1050, a bill that holds companies accountable for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from hydrofluorocarbons, and HB 1091, which will reduce greenhouse emissions by lowering the carbon intensity of transportation fuel.

Camas-Washougal representatives Brandon Vick and Larry Hoff, both Republicans, voted against the bills. And they are not alone in their disdain for policies that will make a dent in the harmful impacts of climate change – a 2021 Pew Research poll found fewer than 10 percent of Republicans said climate change was a top personal concern.

Meanwhile, data from the 2018 Fourth National Climate Assessment shows climate change will “bring increasing challenges to Washington state,” including more extreme heat waves, snowpacks 70 percent below normal levels and more frequent drought conditions. The devastation can be reduced, the assessment noted, but “only if action is taken to significantly reduce global CO2 emissions well before 2030 and if global emissions are decreased to ‘net zero’ by around 2050.”

Other reports, including those suppressed by the Trump administration for four years, show the impacts of climate change are more extreme and happening faster than many climate scientists predicted.

Indeed, it is becoming increasingly clear that, without extreme action on climate change – something that has not presented itself as a priority for most of Camas-Washougal’s elected officials – we will soon have much more to worry about than whether or not it’s safe to go in Camas’ lakes.