City shares water-quality testing data, cleanup strategies for Camas lakes

Open house at Lacamas Lake Lodge draws more than 100 interested residents

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Residents peruse informational displays during a city of Camas open house to discuss Camas lakes' water quality held Wednesday, July 12, 2023, at Lacamas Lake Lodge in Camas. (Kelly Moyer/Post-Record)

The city of Camas is one giant leap closer to establishing a lake management plan for Lacamas, Round and Fallen Leaf lakes.

More than 100 people turned out to a city open house held Wednesday, July 12, at Lacamas Lake Lodge, to learn about the city’s water-testing data and discuss proposed solutions that would improve water quality and help prevent toxic algal blooms.

“A lot of people are asking about next steps … and what can be done to help improve the lakes right now,” said Camas Public Works Director Steve Wall during the July 12 open house.

The answer, said Wall, includes both short- and long-term strategies to improve water quality in the lakes as well as in the broader watershed area that reaches outside Camas’ city limits.

“I know many people are anxious to get something in place,” Wall told Camas City Council members on Monday, July 17. “Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach here.”

The city has been working for two years on the creation of a lake management plan that will establish short- and long-term solutions for improving the lakes’ water quality. During the summer of 2021, city staff and consultants gathered information on the lakes’ existing water and sediment quality data and reached out to the community to gauge the public’s use of the lakes and concerns about water quality, including frequent algal blooms that can sicken humans, wildlife and pets.

“All three lakes have favorable conditions for algal blooms,” the city stated in a slide about the work that has gone into creating the draft lake management plan. “During the summer they become eutrophic. This means they have a lot of phosphorus and nitrogen, which encourages algae growth.”

The researchers added that “reducing the amount of phosphorus that gets into the lakes will be important in reducing algal blooms in the future.”

Since the fall of 2021, city staff and consultants from Geosyntec Consultants, MacKay Sposito and Environmental Science Associates have been collecting and analyzing water samples and other lake data; developing a community outreach plan; seeking funding resources; monitoring water quality in all three lakes; and working on the draft lake management plan that Wall expects will come before the Camas City Council for its approval within the next two months.

Over the past year, the city’s consultants have collected data from the lakes’ surface, mid-sections and bottoms as well as from the creeks that feed Lacamas, Round and Fallen Leaf lakes. They also collected aquatic vegetation samples and sediment from the bottom of the lakes. In total, the consultants’ work amassed around 3,700 data points from more than 135 data sets.

The public got its first look at the results of the yearlong data collection during the city’s July 12 open house.

According to the city’s information presented at the open house, the water sampling showed:

• Lacamas Creek is still the main source of water and nutrients (like phosphorus) for Lacamas and Round Lakes;

• Concentrations of phosphorus in the sediment and deeper waters were higher in Round and Lacamas lakes than in past years;

• The amount of phosphorus near the surface, as well as chlorophyll-a levels, in Lacamas and Round lakes was similar to past years; (and)

• The type of algae in Lacamas and Round lakes are similar, but the algae types in Fallen Leaf Lake are different.”

The data also showed that “most of the phytoplankton in Lacamas and Round lakes was cyanobacteria” but that Fallen Leaf Lake “has a more diverse array of phytoplankton species, with only about 10% cyanobacteria.”

The researchers concluded that “because of the volume of water it contributes, Lacamas Creek makes up 73% of the total load of phosphorus to the (Lacamas and Round) lakes.”

Consultants at the July 12 open house explained that the water flowing into Lacamas and Round lakes from Lacamas CreeK does not mix too much with the “oxygen-deficient” water at the bottom of the lake, but that phosphorus from the bottom of the lakes tends to release into water near the lakes’ surface during the warmer summer months. Algae proliferates in water rich in nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, so both Lacamas and Round lakes have been prone to toxic algal blooms during the summer months.

Some possible near-term solutions presented at the July 12 open house included “in-lake management strategies,” with ballpark costs ranging between less than $100,000 to more than $1 million and a list of expected benefits for each proposed strategy.

Some of the more expensive options include:

• Applying alum from a boat to bind phosphorus in the sediment for “release into water columns,” which city staff expect would result in a “noticeable reduction in phosphorus concentration and probability of harmful algal bloom in first year of application;”

• Applying a “Lanthanum-modified bentonite clay” from a boat to bind phosphorus in the sediment and release it through a water column, which also would result in a “noticeable reduction in phosphorus concentration and probability of harmful algal bloom in first year of application;”

• Increasing the dissolved oxygen at the bottom of the lakes through hypolimnetic aeration or oxygenation, which would have a high initial cost but lower annual cost, and would, according to the city, result in a “notable reduction in internal loading of phosphorus and improved habitat for fish;” and

• Reducing internal phosphorus loading through a nanobubbler, which also would result in a “notable reduction in internal loading of phosphorus and improved habitat for fish.”

Lower-cost strategies for in-lake water quality improvements included:

• Reducing the lakes’ carp population. These fish are known to stir up the phosphorus at the bottom of the lakes, so city staff said reducing the number of carp “may reduce internal loading” of phosphorus and has the “potential for meaningful reduction in internal loading” but would have a “smaller impact relative to measures addressing external loading;” and

• Establishing “floating wetlands,” or rafts with planted vegetation to remove nutrients from the water via the plants’ root system. This lower-cost strategy would, according to the city, result in a “noticeable reduction in internal loading of phosphorus and improved habitat for fish,” but would also have less of an impact on the phosphorus coming into the lake from external sources, primarily from the Lacamas Creek watershed.

City staff and consultants said they are not considering “full water column mixing, physical phosphorus filtration at inflow, ultrasound, dredging” or limiting the use of motors in shallow areas of the lakes.

Long-term strategies will address the streams and creeks in the Lacamas Creek Watershed, which feeds the lakes, and will take partnerships with other entities, including Clark County and the state of Washington’s Department of Ecology.

Some of the long-term watershed strategies included in the information presented at the July 12 open house include: stream restoration; constructed wetlands, septic system replacements and maintenance; conservation buffers, streamside management areas; reduced use of fertilizers and pesticides; planting vegetation known to reduce phosphorus loading; upgrading bioretention facilities; optimizing detention ponds and street sweeping.

“There is a big educational component,” Wall said, adding that city leaders need to offer short- and long-term solutions to improve the lakes’ water quality.

“We can’t ask the public to wait 20 years,” Wall said.

Some of the suggestions presented during the July 12 open house for individuals who want to help reduce algal blooms in Camas’ lakes included: keeping trash out of the lakes; respecting the rules of the lakes and parks; using recommended landscape practices; picking up pet waste and throwing it away; disposing of aquatic plant fragments clinging to watercraft; reducing the use of commercial fertilizers and pesticides; and considering natural alternatives to fertilizer and pesticides.

On Monday, Wall told city officials that he intends to bring the draft Lake Management Plan to the city council as soon as it is ready.

“We have the data necessary for us to figure out how we’re going to spend quite a bit of money on implementing (some of the recommended strategies),” Wall said. “There are short- and long-term recommendations (in the plan). You will hear all of those and can provide some direction for pulling those together and for how we’re going to use our resources.”

Wall said once the City and the state’s ecology department have signed off on the lake management plan, city staff will be able to pursue grants and other funding options to help pay for the city’s preferred water-quality management strategies. Wall added that the City recently received a $515,000 state grant for implementing some of the proposed lake management strategies, and put that money to use as soon as city officials nail down which of the strategies they prefer.

To learn more about the city’s work on the lake management plan and the partners working to help clean Lacamas, Round and Fallen Leaf lakes, visit To learn more about the work of the Lacamas Creek Watershed Council, visit To learn about septic system reimbursement programs available through Poop Smart Clark, visit poopsmartc