Water testing begins at Camas lakes

Consultants will test water at Lacamas, Round and Fallen Leaf lakes over 12-month period; open house on city's lake management plan set for June 15

The city of Camas’ work to improve the health of its popular Lacamas, Round and Fallen Leaf lakes moved forward this week as consultants kicked off a water-sampling project that will collect and test water from all three lakes over the next 12 months.

“The key thing we’re trying to determine is … where are the nutrients coming from that are driving the algal blooms? And how can we reduce this (nutrient) load?” explained Rob Annear, senior principal engineer with Geosyntec Consultants, Inc., the company city of Camas officials hired to work on the second phase of Camas’ lake management plan.

“The last time a load analysis has been done (on Camas’ lakes) with detail was in the 1980s,” Annear added.

Consultants began taking water samples the first week of June and will return several times over the next 12 months.

“The idea behind the sampling is to capture all of the different seasons,” Annear said. “We might have winter rain and spring rain run off load the lake with nutrients and cause algal blooms in the summer … but we won’t know these drivers and understand them until we collect the data.”

Although the city wants to have a full, yearlong set of water quality data, Annear said consultants and city staff working on the water quality testing will continue to update city officials and the public on the lakes’ water quality throughout the process.

“We want to be as transparent as possible,” Annear said. “We’re trying to figure out the best way to share the raw data … but when people see a bunch of numbers, they (may not) know what it means.”

The city is coordinating with the Washington Department of Ecology, which is conducting a Water Cleanup Plan for the entire Lacamas Creek Watershed area that feeds into Lacamas Lake.

“The city’s Lake Management Plan and Ecology’s Water Cleanup Plan should be completed at the same time,” the city states on its Engage Camas web page devoted to the Lake Management Plan. “Coordination and involvement by multiple state and local agencies, landowners and the public will be vital if we want to have any success at all, as we know the issue is not just a ‘lake issue.'”

Indeed, historical data has indicated the biggest source of nutrients that feed algal blooms, including toxic algal blooms that can sicken humans and pets, may be flowing into the lakes from the Lacamas Creek watershed.

“The vast majority, over 95 percent based on past studies, of water and nutrients in Lacamas Lake come from the Lacamas Creek Watershed, which is outside the city’s jurisdiction,” the city stated on its Engage Camas site. “Gathering facts and crunching numbers will help us identify the most cost-effective lake management measures that will help improve water quality.”

Annear said last week that the consultants will be going out “periodically over the summer” and then again in the fall, winter and spring seasons to collect water samples through “vertical profiles” that lower multiple sensors over the side of a boat; “grab samples” that go straight to a lab to test for things like phosphorous, nitrates and other chemical compounds; and stationary temperature-reading instruments that will remain in the lakes throughout the water quality testing period.

“The testing shouldn’t impact recreation on the lakes,” Annear added. “We’re trying to keep whatever equipment we have out there discreet so it doesn’t get hit by boats or vandalized. When we go out with a boat, it’s pretty discreet — not a huge boat.”

The consultants will test water quality at five sites in Lacamas Lake, two sites in Round Lake and one site at Fallen Leaf Lake. Eventually, Annear said, they also will test the lakes’ tributaries and stormwater runoff sites.

Annear and Steve Wall, the city’s public works director, updated the Camas City Council on the second phase of the lake management plan at the Council’s April 18 workshop and said then that, although the city had obtained grant funding to complete the water quality testing, they had to wait for the Department of Ecology to approve the city’s Quality Assurance Project Plan (QAPP).

“That is the way for Ecology to show the data can be relied on,” Wall told the Council in April. “The key is that, in order for us to work with the Geosyntec team, we had to have that approval from Ecology so we know the path we’re on is solid.”

Though it may be a few months before city staff and Geosyntec consultants have a better idea of the type and amount of nutrient-loading happening in Camas’ lakes, Wall said city staff are still working on other aspects of the lake management plan.

“We’re trying to generate awareness of the project and get support from the community,” Wall told the Council in April. “We sense that there are some frustrations in not knowing where we’re at (in the process), and we’re living it all the time and are always giving updates … but maybe it’s not always what the public wants to hear.”

“We want the science to drive the solutions,” Annear said during the Council’s April 18 workshop. “The list of strategies could be 100 long, but when you look at site-specific issues in the lakes — and the community’s willingness to support strategies — that list gets narrowed down. … And, once you have that list, we’re going to want to find collaborators, partners, and find funding sources to fund these projects.”

“We don’t need to wait for the whole year’s data … to look at short-term strategies,” Annear added.

For people interested in learning more about the city’s quest to improve the water quality in Camas’ beloved lakes, the city’s Engage Camas website has a page devoted to the lake management plan with documents, answers to common questions and updates.

The city will hold an in-person open house to update the public on the water quality projects happening at Camas’ lakes from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 15, at Lacamas Lake Lodge, 227 N.E. Lake Road, Camas.

The open house will feature informational tables staffed by Clark County Public Health, the state’s Department of Ecology, the Lacamas Watershed Council, the city of Camas’ Parks and Recreation Department and the Camas Parks Commission.

“This will be a ‘come and go as you please’ open house,” Wall said. “We won’t have any specific presentations. There will be tables set up around the room and people will have the opportunity to visit with folks. So you don’t have to show up right at 6.”

For more information about the lake management plan or the June 15 open house, visit engagecamas.com/lacamas-lake-management-plan and cityofcamas.us.