Camas unveils draft of long-awaited Lakes Management Plan

Officials are considering short- and long-term solutions to prevent toxic algal blooms; working with partners to improve watershed

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People gather on boat docks at Heritage Park in Camas ,and a kayaker paddles into Lacamas Lake Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023, following the annual Lacamas Lake cleanup event. (Photos by Kelly Moyer/Post-Record)

City of Camas staff and consultants have wrapped up a yearlong water quality study of Lacamas, Round and Fallen Leaf lakes and presented city officials with recommended strategies for reducing the toxic algal blooms that have plagued the lakes in recent years. 

Camas Public Works Director Steve Wall, along with Geosyntec consultant Jacob Krall, unveiled a draft Lakes Management Plan to Camas City Council members during a special meeting held Thursday, Sept. 28. 

“This is not the end all,” Wall said of the in-depth plan, which details water quality data from all three lakes and suggests short- and long-term strategies for preventing algal blooms and make the lakes safer for people recreating in the water. 

“This is a baseline with scientific understanding of what’s going on in the lakes,” Wall told Council members last week. “This is meant to be a baseline. There are a lot of things we say ‘aren’t recommended right now’ because of … unknowns and a host of other factors that we’ll have to keep tracking between ourselves and our partners and stakeholders.”

Making the lakes safer for recreating and, eventually, cleaning up the 67-square-mile Lacamas Watershed, which is Lacamas and Round lakes’ main source of nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen that feed algae and contribute to algal blooms that can sicken and kill humans and pets — will take long-term solutions and assistance from city, county, state, nonprofit and community stakeholders, Wall said. 

“It will take all of us to make it work,” Wall told officials on Sept. 28, adding that the city and its consultants have been working with a wide range of partners, including Clark County’s public works and public health departments, the state’s Department of Ecology, the Clark Conservation District, the Lacamas Watershed Council, the Watershed Alliance of Southwest Washington and the Camas Parks Commission during the run-up to the draft Lakes Management Plan. 

“This was not done in a box,” Wall said. “The intent was to benefit the entire watershed, not just the city. There was full effort on everybody’s part, and they were all at the table.” 

City staff and consultants also conducted substantial public outreach before developing their recommended short-term solutions, Wall said, pointing to a variety of open houses, surveys and stakeholder meetings held over the past year.
“Public outreach has been vital to what we do,” Wall said. “We have reviewed all the comments, talked about everything and incorporated (public comments) into our discussions and plans.”

The city’s primary goal was to make the lake water safer for those who enjoy recreating in Lacamas, Round and Fallen Leaf lakes, Wall said. 

“People were tired of seeing hazards and warnings” surrounding toxic algal blooms, Wall said, “So we wanted to know, ‘What can we do so everyone can safely recreate?”

Camas officials dedicated $300,000 from the city’s stormwater funds and used state monies to fund a yearlong water quality study of the three lakes to measure water temperature, dissolved oxygen, chlorophyll-a, phosphorus and nitrogen. 

The draft Lakes Management Plan outlines some of the study’s key findings: 

  • “Lacamas Creek is the dominant source of water and phosphorus loading to Lacamas and Round lakes, representing approximately 90% of the water and 72% of the phosphorus loading to Lacamas and Round lakes;
  • The most elevated total phosphorus concentrations were near the bottom of Lacamas and Round lakes, and these concentrations were higher than measured in studies and measurements taken in the past 30 years; and
  • While phosphorus loading from the lake sediments is a meaningful component (approximately 19%) of the phosphorus budget for Lacamas and Round lakes; it is a substantially smaller component than loading from inflowing creeks, primarily Lacamas Creek.”

The report also noted that, while Fallen Leaf Lake “has similar levels of phosphorus to Lacamas and Round lakes and should continue to be monitored,” the smallest of the lakes did not have the same type of algae that contributes to the toxic algal blooms known to be unhealthy to humans and animals. 

According to the draft Lakes Management Plan’s executive summary: “It is recommended that treatment initially focus on Lacamas Lake only, as Round Lake is located downstream of Lacamas Lake and may see benefits from treatment of Lacamas Lake. Fallen Leaf Lake is not currently recommended for treatment, though it should continue to be monitored and a focus on stormwater discharges should be included in the City’s stormwater management program.”

Short-term solutions focus on toxic algal bloom prevention

Wall said the draft Lakes Management Plan has short-term solutions designed to prevent toxic algal blooms and make the lakes safer for recreational uses, as well as long-term strategies focused on improving the lakes’ overall water quality that will be highly dependent on results of the state’s current investigation of nutrient-loading sources within the Lacamas Watershed.

“Both Ecology and the county are doing work that will inform efforts in the watershed,” Wall said. “Ecology has been doing source assessment work (in the Lacamas Watershed) since 2012. … They are looking at nutrients in specific locations in the watershed.”
Once Ecology has completed its watershed source-assessment later this year, it will begin putting together a restoration plan, Wall said, which will look at improving water quality throughout the watershed and, in turn, in Lacamas and Round lakes.”

Wall said he expects the state’s alternative restoration plan for the watershed, which will likely not be completed until at least 2025, will include strategies for repairing and inspecting septic systems, planting and doing mitigation work along creek areas to provide shade, helping to restore eroding stream banks, addressing agricultural lands and stormwater systems. 

Until then, the city of Camas’ Lakes Management Plan will provide short-term options for preventing toxic algal blooms in Lacamas Lake, a popular destination for boaters, kayakers and paddleboarders, and nearby Round Lake, which is open to only non-motorized watercraft. 

The draft Lakes Management Plan offers a three-part management strategy for the lakes, including: 

  • The annual removal of phosphorous from the lakes’ water columns — the space from the surface to the bottom of a lake — using chemical treatment beginning in the spring of 2024; 
  • Inactivating the phosphorus in sediments using chemical treatment over the next five to 10 years, beginning in the spring of 2024; and 
  • Reducing phosphorus loading from the Lacamas Watershed “through continued partnerships with Clark county and other regional and state organizations.” 

City staff and consultants have recommended using either aluminum sulfate (alum) or a product known as Eutrosorb WC to remove phosphorus from Lacamas Lake’s water column, noting that alum has “been applied to numerous lakes in Washington” but could require “buffering to maintain a pH range that will prevent the formation of compounds toxic to aquatic life,” while Eutrosorb WC “is a more recent product and is believe to have lower risk to aquatic organisms.” 

The draft plan notes that alum is permitted under Ecology’s current permitting system while Eutrosorb WC would require the city to receive an experimental permit. 

The second treatment recommendation focuses on binding and inactivating the phosphorus already present in sediment found in Lacamas and Round lakes using either alum or another product called Eutrosorb G for the next five years, beginning in the spring of 2024, with future treatments “dependent on results and monitoring.” 

Krall said lake enthusiasts should notice a difference in the number of toxic algal bloom warnings after the first in-lake chemical treatments. 

“You would see benefits in the first year,” Krall said. “There will be a reduction in algal blooms that first year.” 

The draft plan also lists some watershed management options that will likely be needed on an ongoing, long-term basis to improve the lakes’ water quality. Those options include: 

  • Upgrading bioretention facilities and detention ponds, street sweeping and asset management to optimize stormwater programs in the city and county; 
  • Reducing the use of pesticides and fertilizers – especially fertilizers that contain phosphorus, which Wall said are technically prohibited by the state but still available at retailers; 
  • Planting vegetation associated with reductions in phosphorus; 
  • Having conservation buffers; 
  • Better managing streamside areas; 
  • Implementing measures to ensure better septic-system management compliance; 
  • Restoring streams; 
  • Constructing wetlands on public or private lands; 
  • And supporting groups that are conducting public education outreach throughout the watershed, such as Poop Smart Clark, which educates the public on ways to reduce the amount of nutrient-supplying feces — from septic systems, agricultural animal waste and pet waste — out of the watershed. 

“We know all of these things contribute to what’s coming into the lakes from the watershed,” Wall said. “But a lot of these are outside the city’s jurisdiction … so that’s where we need to get creative about partnering with everybody.”

Costs could top $4M in 10 years

The draft management plan estimates it will cost around $4.1 million for 10 years’ worth of in-lake chemical treatments, monitoring and public outreach. 

Those costs include $1.8 million for chemical applications to strip phosphorus from the water column; $1.3 million for the chemical applications that inactivate phosphorus in the lake sediment; $500,000 for 10 years’ worth of monitoring; and $50,000 for 10 years’ worth of public outreach to help reduce nutrient-loading from the Lacamas Watershed, which will “reduce in-lake treatment costs over time.” 

The City does have $515,000 from a state grant provided by the 2023-25 State Capital Budget to help cover some of those costs. 

Wall and Krall said last week that city staff and consultants also evaluated other treatment options that they are not recommending at this time, including: 

  • removing phosphorus from the inflow point at Lacamas Creek, which would have high initial costs related to permitting, design and construction; 
  • Aerating the lake water through hypolimnetic aeration, oxygenation or via nanobubblers, which was “not expected to reduce (nutrients in the lakes) by itself” and “only helps with the sediment phosphorus (but) does not address the creek loading.” This option also has “substantial initial costs, time required to design, construct and implement the system” and, for the nanobubblers, costs associated with “property for device placement,” according to the draft management plan.
  • Applying algaecide, which carries a risk of toxicity to the fish and vegetation in the lakes; 
  • Removing carp — fish known to stir up phosphorus from bottom sediments — from the lakes, which would require further discussion with the state’s department of fish and wildlife; 
  • Limiting motor use in shallow areas to avoid stirring up phosphorus in the sediment and transferring it to the water column. The plan said there was “not enough evidence to demonstrate that this would meaningfully reduce internal loading,” but urged maintaining this option for future consideration; and 
  • Dredging to remove phosphorus-laden sediments from the bottom of the lakes — an option not considered at this time due to “high costs and a need to determine where dredged sediments would be placed.”


Watershed Council head weighs in

After reviewing the draft plan and watching Wall and Krall’s Sept. 28, presentation to the Caas City Council, Judit Lorincz, executive director of the Lacamas Watershed Council, a volunteer-run group that advocates for improving water quality in the three Camas lakes, said she wasn’t surprised by the recommendations. 

“I was very pleased with the presentation,” Lorincz, of Camas, said. “I think the consultant and city did a good job … it was very informative and very comprehensive.” 

Lorincz said having the Lakes Management Plan in place to guide short-term treatments that reduce algal blooms as well as long-term strategies to improve water quality throughout the watershed will be “a major step” for the city of Camas. 

“There is so much more work to do,” Lorincz said. “This plan focuses on how to manage the cyanobacteria (that causes toxic algal blooms), but there are so many aspects of lake health that they will still need to talk about and revisit. And some will be controversial.”

Lorincz said her group, which has six board members and about a dozen volunteers who regularly test the lake water in Camas for phytoplankton and other markers that can point to an impending algal bloom, is always looking for interested volunteers — including water-testers as well as others who might be skilled in public outreach efforts or nonprofit administration. 

“We are also looking to partner with other programs that are looking to pilot projects related to water quality,” Lorincz said. “We’re trying to keep an open mind and not just look at things that are proven in the past, but also new technologies coming on the market.” 

The watershed council’s long-term goal is to set up an educational site that could meld well with the long-term efforts at the city, county and state level focused on improving water quality within the Lacamas Watershed. Lorincz also would love to see her group partner with local students interested in lake water quality. 

“We have smart kids here with so much potential. And we have an awesome robotics team in Camas. Why don’t we give those kids something to think about and come up with … maybe another (form of a nanobubbler)?’ Lorincz said. “What I would love to see is a combination of safe, tried and proven approaches mixed with newer ones that maybe don’t have that much study — for us to be more forward-thinking and risk-taking, I guess. … I’m not against using something proven, but I would like to see that we’re staying open-minded and not just going for what’s safe and tried.” 

As far as the draft Lakes Management Plan now available on the Engage Camas website, Lorincz said she would love to see even more community input. 

“I would like to see people take the time to comment on it and ask questions,” Lorincz said. 

And for those community members looking to get more involved, she encourages joining one of the nonprofits that are dedicated to helping improve water quality in the lakes and the watershed. 

“The Watershed Alliance does beach cleanups and plants trees. Clark Conservation District has its Poop Smart Clark program … and for those who like the more scientific part or want to get their hands dirty and go to the lakes to collect data, there is (the Lacamas Watershed Council),” Lorincz said. “There are lots of opportunities on this topic to make a difference and be part of the solution, not part of the problem.” 

Council hears ‘next steps’

Wall said the city is in “draft mode” with its Lakes Management Plan. 

“We have the draft plan and the county, Ecology and the public will have an opportunity to comment on that,” Wall told the Council last week. 

Wall recommended that people who are interested in the issue read the draft plan on Engage Camas ( and send comments to Wall at

“In early winter we’ll look at those comments … and come back to Council if we need to, if there are drastic changes,” Wall said. “If there are minor comments here and there, we’ll take that into consideration and then look to complete the plan and move it forward.” 

The city will also receive feedback from Clark County, the state and other agency and nonprofit stakeholders before sending a draft Lakes Management Plan to Ecology for the state’s review and approval. 

Other “next steps” include implementing the final in-lake management strategies beginning next spring and continuing to collaborate with city, county and state partners to improve water quality throughout the Lacamas Watershed.