Submitted by Eric Chandler, CW2, US Army, Retired, Lakewood.
The following (plus attachments) have been sent to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in New York.
Background: Waughop Lake lies roughly in the center of what is known as Fort Steilacoom ( STEEL-uh-COME ) Parkin Lakewood, WA. It has a surface area of approximately 33 acres and a mean depth of 7 feet. The lake is fed by groundwater and has no surface drainage channels. The depth fluctuates about 2 ft a year, gaining 2 feet in winter and losing 2 feet due to evaporation.
The grounds of the park were formerly used as a farm, operated by patients and staff of the nearby Western StateHospital from the late 1800s to 1965. The farm was started as a means of growing food for the patients and staff, but also took on the mission of serving as occupational therapy for the patients who worked on the farm.
By 1946, the farm was raising 800 hogs, producing 8 tons of pork a month; over 2,200 turkeys and domestic ducks; and 60,000 chickens, chicks in incubators, and flock of laying hens, ranging from 7,000 to 8,000 birds producing 4,000 to 6,500 eggs a day.
Part of the abundance of the farm was due to a discovery made in the 1920’s. One of the patients who was tending a garden plot was noticed to have much better production than other plots. The supervisors inquired with the patient about how he had achieved those results, and he revealed that he had gathered up some of the lake-bottom muck as a soil amendment after the water level had been lowered by the irrigation pumps.
The practice of using the lake sediments as a soil amendment was soon expanded to the whole farm after the staff realized the material was diffuse enough to pump through their watering system. But after a while, the staff realized that they were depleting this resource, and so they decided to replenish it.
Hospital records show that waste products from farming, including manure from livestock barns, were dumped into the lake. The Hill Ward, built on a knoll just to the north of Waughop Lake, had a sewer pipe running straight down to the lake. At one point, a slaughter house was built on brick pilings over the lake with a metal grate floor, the better for the offal to just fall through into the lake.
This addition of farm waste to the lake explains the high phosphorous loads that still exist today. Since Waughop Lakeis a “kettle lake”, with no streams for inflow or outflow, everything that is in the lake for the most part stays there. The phosphorous ions that get taken up by the algae get recycled by subsequent generations after the algae die.
The farm ceased operations in 1965, and a few years later the State leased the land to Pierce County to operate as a park (later leased to the City of Lakewood). The toxic algae conditions have persisted thanks to all of the farm waste products still left in the lake. In 2011, the Tacoma Pierce County Health Department (TPCHD) determined that the toxic conditions were bad enough to merit posting signs, closing the lake to recreational uses.
Waughop Lake was further harmed in more recent years because of a plumbing problem at nearby Pierce College. Because most of the college sits below the level of the Pierce County Sewer System’s lines on Farwest Drive, the college’s plumbing system was designed to drain to a collection point with a “lift station” located very close to WaughopLake. From there, the sewage gets pumped back uphill to connect to the sewer main lines.
But that lift station was built with a cross connection such that if the lifting pump ever failed, the raw sewage would be diverted into the storm drain which feeds rainwater from the college’s roofs and parking lots into Waughop Lake. There have been documented episodes of raw sewage discharge into Waughop Lake in 2007, 2010, and most recently in December 2016, resulting in another “lake closed” sign posting.
As clearly shown above, the entity that caused the pollution of Waughop Lake is Washington State (Western StateHospital & Pierce College), not the City of Lakewood, and, according to Federal and State Law, is therefore whollyresponsible for its cleanup. Yet, thus far it has failed in every respect to accept that responsibility. However, for whatever reason, the City of Lakewood has taken on that responsibility and associated expenses.
Remedial Action Plan – A 3-year Effort by Expert, Volunteer Citizens
In 2009, a group of concerned-citizen contributors began working toward a useful solution to WaughopLake’s persistent algae problems. Several of them were well-experienced, volunteer water-quality monitors, part of a program orchestrated by the Pierce Conservation District. Two Lakewood citizens, having years of experience in water quality for Lakewood, Don Russell and Tom McClellan, were included as members. Other members of the team included representatives from the Tacoma Pierce County Health Department, and college professors from Pierce Community College, University of Washington, Tacoma, and the University of Puget Sound. Throughout the study this team coordinated with City staff and kept them apprised of developments as the study progressed.
In Dec. 2012, this Citizen-based, Expert Team provided a 70-page Remedial Action Plan to the City ofLakewood at no cost to the City, detailing the science, the law, courses of action, and recommended solutions.
The $200,000 Remedial Action Plan
City officials thanked the team for their input, but then proceeded with a grant application to the State ofWashington for $150,000, to be matched by $50,000 of City funds, in order to hire consulting firm Brown and Caldwell to conduct another study. That study finally began in 2014 and was completed in late 2016,four years after the Citizen-based, Expert Team had submitted their Remedial Action Plan.
The City of Lakewood, despite considerable citizen opposition, accepted only the Brown and Caldwell Plan submission, and adopted it as a Draft in November 2016. This Draft was later approved by the Lakewood City Council on 8 March 2017 with the selected initial approach being the “Alum” treatment of Waughop Lake.
Nearly two years passed with no action by the City. In January 2019, sensing looming action by the City, Don Russell and Tom McClellan started a flurry of letters to the City trying to convince them to back off from their decision to use the “Alum” treatment approach.
Once again, the City ignored these requests and on 21 February 2019,The City of Lakewood made a public announcement on The Suburban Times web page indicating they were seeking coverage under the Washington State Department of Ecology Aquatic Plant and Algae Management NPDES and State Waste Discharge General Permit.
Specifically, they requested: for the control of phosphorus via the addition of aluminum sulfate and sodium aluminates, which are not pesticides. The City is proposing to treat Waughop Lake with alum to inactivate phosphorus in the lake, as the accumulation of phosphorus in the lake sediments is resulting in harmful algal blooms.
Further, they have opted not to treat the lake with an herbicide.
On 27 February I personally sent a letter to the WA State Department of Ecology asking them to deny the City’s Application (2nd Attachment). I have yet to receive a response.
I (as well as some other Lakewood citizens) have also written several emails to Lakewood’s state senator and representatives urging them to step in and do something about this situation. The only response I’ve gotten is “we’re looking into it”.
On 15 March 2019, Don Russell posted a letter to The Suburban Times, entitled: The wisdom of treating Waughop Lake with alum needs to be questioned. He goes on to say, “Such a treatment would likely prevent harmful Cyanobacteria blooms from occurring in the lake for from 3 to 5 years, [but] after which ongoing repeated alum treatments would be necessary until the lake fills in as a result of these alum treatments and becomes a hydrogen sulfide emitting marsh.
What the Plan did not indicate was that an alum treatment would pollute Waughop Lake’s bottom sediments with aluminum hydroxide and a variety of toxic sulfur compounds (sulfates, sulfites, sulfides). The existence of these pollutants will not only negate the commercial value of Waughop Lake’s nutrient rich sediment as a [potential] soil-amendment material, it will significantly increase the cost of any future sediment removal and disposal operation.”
My wife and I live about 1900 feet southwest of Waughop Lake, and have enjoyed walks into the park on many, many occasions. This small lake is surrounded by a pathway that many of Lakewood’s citizens, and their pets, use year-round. From the heights of the ridges within the park one can get wonderful vistas of Mt Rainier in the background withWaughop Lake as the centerpiece. It is also home to a variety of wildlife, including: Deer, Coyote, Fox, Rabbit, Raccoon, Eagles, Osprey, Waterfowl (Cormorant, Grebes, Widgeon, Wood Duck, Northern Shoveler, Bufflehead, Golden Eye, Canada and Cackling Geese, Coot). It used to be a favorite place for fishing and racing model boats, but both of these activities no longer occur due to the lake’s pollution. Yet if the City is allowed to follow their chosen “remediation” path, that park centerpiece will become even-more-polluted and ultimately disappear.
So, I am asking for your assistance. There must be some way to stop this. This lake, the wildlife it supports, and the people of Lakewood deserve the right solution.