Submitted by Ken Karch, PE.
To: Washington State Department of Ecology, Water Quality Program, Attn: Aquatic Pesticide Permit Manager, PO Box 47600, Olympia, WA 98504-7600.
These comments are submitted to the Department of Ecology in opposition to the request for permit for alum treatment for algae control in Waughop Lake in Lakewood, WA. A quick bio on Mr. Karch is attached at the end, as well as a list of references.
I hope you will take my concerns in the spirit in which they are offered…that of a Lakewood resident for the past 12 years, of the State of Washington since 1977, and one whose background is as an environmental engineer and student of governmental policy and procedures, who wishes Waughop Lake to be returned, to the extent possible, to the valuable natural resource condition which my fellow citizens deserve and expect.
My background specific to this matter is described in the attached biography. To the point, I served as the first Executive Director of the Iowa Department of Environmental Quality, and later as the Director of the Missouri Division of Environmental Quality, both positions being the comparable position to the Director of the Washington State Department of Ecology. In fact, I worked with John Biggs, former Washington DOE Director, and our counterparts in a dozen other states, to anticipate and respond, from the states’ perspective, to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the creation of the US Environmental Protection Agency.
I have studied the several reports on the eutrophication issues of Waughop Lake, as well as the 35 or more communications from a variety of persons, some of whom clearly have in-depth knowledge of eutrophication issues, which have recently appeared in local paper and online media, and concluded that I needed to recommend that the State DOE not issue the permit for alum application to resolve the eutrophication issue at Waughop Lake.
Philosophy of Pollution Control
The “polluter pays” principle is the fundamental principle of environment law in the US and many other industrialized countries. It is based on the idea that, whenever the producer of pollution can be identified; the nature of the pollutant and its effect on the public defined; the polluter still exists, can be found, and is capable of contributing, in whole or in part, to the mitigation of the external costs imposed on the public, it should be required to do so.
Examples of the “polluter pays” principle include the “gas guzzler” tax; the CAFÉ fuel economy standards; the Superfund system; payment for the use and abuse of public resources (eg., grazing and oil exploration fees, effluent standards), many recycling and reuse alternatives; responsibilities incorporated into most Federal, State, and local environmental regulations, and most recently, the proposed carbon tax.
Taxes and fees which do not fall primarily on the generators of pollutants do not fall in this category, the highly subsidized municipal waste treatment construction grants program being an example. From an economist’s viewpoint they do not “internalize the externalities” thereby distorting price signals and increasing inefficiency in the marketplace.
A high level summary of the recent change in support for economically efficient pollution control systems is contained in the Brookings Institution’s Robert Crandall (post-2004) which updates comments by the author in 1974 (Karch (1974). Copies of both are attached.
The provisions in Federal and Washington State law and the City of Lakewood’s environmentally-related ordinances have been described in detail elsewhere, and are clear on supporting this principle. Their application to the Waughop Lake water quality issue make clear to me the State’s responsibility in this matter. Other commenters have made this point repeatedly and in depth. I support those comments.
Unfortunately, the Washington State DOE, as the permitting agency on the Waughop Lake alum treatment proposal (and related alternatives, such as dredging) is in an awkward position, since other State agencies, or their predecessors, have apparently been largely responsible for creating the problem for which solutions are sought. The DOE may therefore, be subject to criticism or legal action simply by issuing a permit, by the EPA or citizen-based environmental groups. Nonetheless, review of the DOE authority and potential liability for issuing the subject permit should be assessed by the DOE legal team, the Attorney General, or outside counsel.
What is the Problem?
The primary issue at Waughop Lake is one of health concerns (blue-green algae toxic end products) preventing water contact beneficial uses (as water use closures by the Pierce County Health Department, supported by the very high readings reported in the CDC study and toxins reports from 2007 through 2018, require). Of the 324 results reported between July 5, 2007 and September 6, 2018, 144 (40.9%) failed to meet State guidelines, almost all for microcystin. The failure rate was largely in the September/October period, with a scattering in the July/August and January/February periods.
The primary root cause of this is the benthic flux resulting from years of man-made deposits of organic materials, which, in turn produces high levels of phosphorus in the lake, resulting, in turn, in algae blooms, and toxic by-products. Simply preventing the mobilization of phosphorus by alum treatment addresses one of the symptoms of the root cause, but does not remove the root cause, the sludge on the bottom of the lake.
While it will be nice to have clear water in the lake for aesthetic purposes, it is much more important to resolve the fundamental water contact (and perhaps airborne) health issues surrounding the toxins produced during algae blooms.
Therefore, any proposed solutions should focus on, and be measured by the removal of the risk to public health.
Will Alum Treatment Work?
A wide range of studies of the nature of the algae blooms and toxic byproducts in Waughop Lake have indicated that, compared to all other lakes studied and reported on in the Pacific Northwest, 1) Waughop Lake is singularly shallow; 2) the sediment is singularly thick from many years of man-made deposits; 3) the benthic flux of phosphorus is by far the highest as a percentage contributor to phosphorus in the water, the trigger for algal blooms, 4) all other sources of phosphorus are correspondingly lower; 5) the lake is of very low alkalinity, making it susceptible to pH stresses; 6) the lake is far more eutrophic; and 7) the appearance of toxins is singularly by far the highest.
As a result, confidence in the relatively large body of evidence supporting the view that alum treatment may provide a major and long lasting “solution” to the algal bloom problem, may be sharply reduced by comparing its efficacy only to those situations having characteristics similar to those found in Waughop Lake. I have seen none in a brief literature search conducted on the matter, and the Brown and Caldwell plan is silent on providing such examples (the few examples they provided are not on point). A query of key algal experts in DOE and in Jefferson County about whether they knew of any such comparable lake conditions drew demurrals.
In Waughop Lake, the phosphorus levels are so high, and the algal trigger levels are so low, that it leaves considerable doubt about whether treatments found effective in other moderately polluted lakes would apply in Waughop Lake.
Unless such unequivocal evidence can be found of comparably bad lake situations, I don’t see that the issuance of a permit for alum treatment is a wise idea. The application of alum to Waughop Lake may be considerably less effective than the evidence reported only from moderately affected lakes. The engine that generates phosphorus in Waughop (benthic flux) is so powerful that I have little faith that alum treatment will be either as initially effective or as long lived as hoped for.
There are many lake algal studies in the literature. I have suggested development of a neural network for mining of the data in these studies to determine whether there are hidden and unknown solution alternatives to alum treatment in a situation such as that found uniquely in Waughop Lake. DOE, and the fine Washington education system, no doubt has personnel who could help answer such a question.
What is the Chemistry?
Several of the studies of alum and/or calcium hydroxide have indicated that things can go wrong, leading to failure of the proposed treatment, including early or variable reemergence of blooms, including toxic properties, pondweed increases, and/or fish kills.
The chemistry and biology of natural waters is extraordinarily complex, involving a “slumgullion” stew of inorganic and organic constituents.
In reading the Brown and Caldwell and Tetra-Tech reports, I felt that the treatment of this complexity was limited. Most environmental engineering students will have had some exposure to one or more of the many works on the subject, such as that by Stumm and Morgan (1970, 1996). The influence of phases of phosphorus and nitrogen under varying pH conditions, as well as the effect of dissolved oxygen, as a contributor to pH changes in a low alkalinity lake, could have been better described.
What Are the Economics?
I was expecting, but did not find, a discussion of the economics of alternative solutions in the Brown and Caldwell report (nor, for that matter, in the other reports on the Waughop Lake algae issue). The economic information was limited to suggesting capital costs for several alternatives (which varied by very high percentages) along with estimated costs for re-treatment at some highly variable time frame in the future.
The relatively high initial capital cost estimate of dredging would be offset by relatively lower future O&M costs (since the likelihood of success is higher and longer) and, of course, by the possibility of economically beneficial uses of the dredged material (eg., for fertilizer or soil amendments). The alum treatment was acknowledged as having a highly variable effective life, with future uncertain repeat applications likely to be necessary.
Situations arising where there is a choice between choosing a high capital/low O&M costs versus a low capital/high O&M cost alternative, are an economist’s dream, and depend on the assumptions made about amounts, timing, and interest rates, and are the classic case of the time value of money. I am reminded of the ditty by Kenneth Boulding, the poet-economist and one-time professor of mine, remarking (from memory) on the high first cost Feather River project to move water from northern to southern California:
“Around the mysteries of finance,
We must perform a ritual dance,
For every project owes its fate,
To the long term interest rate.
At 1 percent the case is clear;
At 2 some sneaking doubts appear;
At 3 it draws its dying breath;
While 4 percent is sudden death.”
While today’s interest rates may bear little relationship to those of the 1960s, it is all the more important, when considering options such as alum treatment vs. dredging, to conduct an economic analysis, including a sensitivity analysis, to determine what effect changes in success assumptions; alum treatment recurrence; governmental preferences and hurdle rates; reuse income; disposal cost; grant eligibility; and other factors have on the relative desirability of the two alternatives.
High Uncertainty Requires Reducing the Risk
Whenever uncertainty about a course of action is high, it is wise to syndicate the risk, or to rely on alternative risk reduction approaches. One of the most useful may be a performance bond on the applicator, or a staged program, with release of portions of the funds based on achievement of annual performance measures. Such performance measures should be clearly stated, well understood, measureable, quantified, and time bound.
Reluctance to agree to such a requirement diminishes one’s confidence in the efficacy of the proposal.
Release of funds without a requirement to achieve the measures represents a fiduciary failure on the part of the funding organizations to their constituents, the tax and rate payers, who expect and deserve prudent use of scarce fiscal resources, which could have been used elsewhere for public benefits.
If a performance bond ever became workable the success measures should include measures of public benefit, such as fishability and freedom from toxic algae, and not simply secchi disk or other aesthetic measurements, or even levels of phosphorus in the water column.
I have been informed by the member of the City Council of The City of Lakewood, that the City, applicant for this permit, has indicated in general that it will have interim “check points,” but the specific nature of the measurements has not been agreed to.
I would urge the DOE to incorporate specific, measureable, objectives as a condition of the permit issued for application of alum to Waughop Lake, which are clearly stated, well understood, quantified, and time bound, similar to the provisions in the state agency performance audit system, approved by the voters as Initiative 900 in 2005.
The Dredging Option is Best
All the key studies of which I am aware (including two citizen committee reports, the Brown and Caldwell report, and the Tetra Tech report) indicate that dredging is the best assured, long-term solution to nuisance algae blooms and attendant toxic conditions in Waughop Lake.
The City of Lakewood is clearly concerned with the projected costs for dredging, based on projections made by the two consultants, but has not carried out a more rigorous evaluation seeking and releasing information from dredging and/or recycling contractors. Others have made estimates which suggest considerably lower costs for dredging, land disposal, and recycling/resale opportunities. I would urge DOE, as part of the permitting process, to do an assessment of the costs of dredging and/or recycle/reuse of dredged materials. Clearly, the DOE has the skills and information in house to do so.
Beyond that, I would urge that the DOE not issue a permit for alum treatment if it concludes that such treatment would preclude the use of the sludge material, when it is eventually removed from the lake, as fertilizer or soil amendment. Sludge tests I have seen to date would not preclude such use, even with slightly increased levels of some heavy metals from the Tacoma smelter.
Phosphorus levels which trigger algae blooms may never be achievable, given the lake’s advanced eutrophic condition, without physical removal of the accumulated sludge of 100 or more years. Following that, periodical treatment with algaecides and/or alum may be effective.
I also have concerns that bottom-feeding fish (eg., carp), continually stirring up the settled material; natural phenomena (eg., wind action on the shallow lake, or temporarily clear water leading to increase pond weed growth); and man-made phenomena (increased water sports, such as boating, again in the shallow lake) will never allow reductions below the phosphorus trigger levels if the heavy sludge layer is not physically removed.
If Not Now, When?
Suggestions have been made that dredging may be a solution for the future, after an alum treatment now, to provide temporary relief from nuisance algae bloom and toxics.
Given the fact the City of Lakewood is rapidly developing the park surrounding Waughop Lake, and would not be doing so unless there was a prospect of increased use for a variety of activities by the public, I would argue that there will never be a time when it will be easier than today to remove a significant barrier to such increased use (use of the lake itself for boating and fishing).
The argument that interference with present uses of the park for other purposes will be disrupted by a dredging alternative will only become stronger with time and increased use of the park. And while I don’t believe swimming is a likely potential water contact use, miracles seem to sometimes happen.
I call to your attention the “solution space” concept, where a variety of actions over time may make a large solution space (i.e., many possible solutions to a problem) today shrink over time. Think of the solution space as a pie, and the actions taken over time being bites from that pie. As the bites occur, the solution space gets smaller.
A practical solution, though perhaps seemingly expensive today (dredging of the sludge from Waughop Lake) may become, over time, infeasible due to the small bites occurring each year. Bites in this case include rising prices for dredging; increased alternative uses of the park for other purposes (including demands to fill the lake and use it for land uses, such as sports fields, expanding dog-walking, concert venues, community centers, community gardens, outdoor art, a botanical garden, a nature center, bike trails and velodromes, and any number of others, all of which have three critical characteristics: they take up space, bring people in, and raise the cost of alternative uses, including dredging); hardening of the state’s position on its own responsibility; creation of animus between the City and the State on the matter; continuing small uncontrolled contributions of nutrients to the lake; etc.
I recommend that the Department of Ecology reject the City of Lakewood request for a permit for alum treatment of Waughop Lake, pending further consideration of the circumstances described above, including further analyses described above, and for the following reasons:
1. The proposal does not effectively address the question of responsibility for the sludge which is the primary cause of the algae blooms and toxic by-products encountered regularly in the lake
2. Credible evidence has not been presented that, in lakes as badly degraded as Waughop, the proposed application will be effective
3. The chemistry and related biological factors which are at play in the Waughop Lake environment have been relatively poorly defined by the applicant, and relatively well defined by professional personnel who oppose the alum treatment (see some 35 or more recent letters to the editor on the matter, and the reports of the proponents and opponents
4. The economics of alternative issue resolution practices (primarily alum vs. dredging) have not been given adequate treatment, using standard engineering economics principles
5. The high level of uncertainty demands a strong risk reduction strategy, perhaps involving a performance bond or other measures to ensure the fiduciary responsibility of the City, State, and Federal governments to their constituents are observed
6. Dredging is the only technique which will permanently remove the deep layer of man-made sludge which has gathered over the past 100 years or more and is the primary contributor to high phosphorus levels, with resulting algae and their byproduct toxins in the water
7. There will be no better time than now to remove the accumulated sludge, as pressures to develop the park (already in play) will inevitably reduce available space in the park, increase public use of the park, and increase the political and financial cost of dredging in the future. These will effectively preclude a dredging option in the future, and result in the loss of a prime water body for public use.
A Quick Biography of Ken Karch Ken Karch is a registered professional engineer with over 35 years of experience in environmental and organizational management in local and state government, non-profit organizations, private consulting, and industry. He holds an undergraduate degree in Civil Engineering from Illinois Institute of Technology, and Masters degrees in Engineering and in Public Health from the University of Michigan. He is a graduate of the University of Chicago’s Industrial Relations Executive Program and Columbia University’s Executive Program in Business Administration. Ken has served on a variety of high-level nation-, state-, region-, and industry-wide boards, commissions, and councils, chairing many of them.
Ken’s experience has included environmental work in a County Health Department in Illinois and the Regional Planning Agency in Washington DC. He was appointed the first Executive Director of the Iowa Department of Environmental Quality and the first Director of the Missouri Division of Environment Quality. He was Washington State and national Environmental Affairs Manager with Weyerhaeuser. He has served as manager of a 7000 acre property for the Nature Conservancy; Vice President of a Public Development Authority managing a public water system in Ocean Park, WA; President and General Manager of a 2000 member homeowners association; and a facilities manager for the Tacoma Mountaineers.
Ken’s personal statement regarding eutrophication and related issues:
I have studied and prepared reports on the condition of several rivers and streams, including my Master’s Thesis at the University of Michigan on the Computer Simulation of the Dissolved Oxygen Condition in the Ouachita River in Arkansas and Louisiana, subject to varying industrial waste inputs, releases from upstream reservoirs, temperature conditions, dissolved oxygen levels and standards, and tidal effects.
I served as a member and Chairman of Seattle METRO’s Citizens’ Water Quality Advisory Committee, dealing with secondary and advanced waste treatment alternatives and sludge recycling and reuse issues.
I authored papers on the computerization of county health department inspection programs; the application of remote sensing data from the Earth Resources Technology Satellite (ERTS) system to urban planning; the literature of packinghouse wastes; wastewater reclamation and reuse; economics of pollution control and surface water diversion projects; public water supply planning; sediment control; flood control; and urbanization effects of water and sewerage planning.
I worked to reduce the eutrophic conditions of rivers, farm ponds, and reservoirs in Iowa and Missouri; and on controls for feedlots, grazing, soil conservation, fishery enhancement, and on reducing pesticide by-products in bottom feeding fish in the interstate commercial fisheries market.
I have opened a blog on Waughop Lake, which can be accessed at:
1. Stumm, Werner, & Morgan James J., Aquatic Chemistry: Chemical Equilibria and Rates in Natural Waters, 1970, 1996
2. Karch, Kenneth M., POLLUTION CONTROL COSTS TOO MUCH! An Address Before the Institute of Environmental Sciences, Shoreham-Americana Hotel, Washington, DC, April 30, 1974 (attached)
3. ENTRANCO Engineers, A Proposal for Waughop Lake Restoration, for the Pierce County Parks and Recreation Department, February 27, 1978
4. Moss, Brian, Engineering and Biological Approaches to the Restoration From Eutrophication of Shallow Lakes in Which Aquatic Plant Communities are Important Complements, Department of Environmental and Evolutionary Biology, University of Liverpool, UK, 1990
5. Rydin, Emil et al, Amount of phosphorus inactivated by alum treatments in Washington lakes, Limnol. Oceanogr., 45(1), 2000, 226–230
6. Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, Canadian Water Quality Guidelines for the Protection of Aquatic Life, 2004
7. Crandall, Robert W., Pollution Controls (post-2004); www.econlib.org/library/Enc/PollutionControls.html
8. Hamel, Kathy, Freshwater Algae Control Program (Washington State Department of Ecology) Report to the Washington State Legislature (2008 – 2009)
9. Johnson, Art, Blue-Green Algae Toxins in Washington Lakes: Screening Fish Tissues for Microcystins and Anatoxin-a, March, 2010
10. McClellen, Tom, Draft Remedial Action Plan Waughop Lake Cleanup, December 24, 2012
11. SePRO Corporation, Restoration of Water Quality in Lake Lorene, April 1, 2013
12. Washington State Departmant of Ecology, Aquatic Plant and Algae Management General Permit, effective April 1, 2015
13. Jacoby, Jean, at al, Dominant Factors Associated with Microcystins in Nine Mid-latitude, Maritime Lakes, Inland Waters (2015) 5, pp. 187-202, April 22, 2015
14. Brown and Caldwell, Waughop Lake Management Plan, February, 2017
15. Thurlow, Theresa, (Federal Way) City Council Presentation on the Data Analysis Report for Upper Joe’s Creek Watershed Nutrient Reduction Study, June 20, 2017
16. Dawson, Raechel, Federal Way’s upper Joe’s Creek study suffers backlash from twin Lakes community, July 21, 2017
17. Harry Gibbons, Shannon Bradttebow, and Adam Barnes, Tetra Tech Memorandum to Greg Vigoren (City of Lakewood) entitled Waghop Lake Dredging Feasibility Water Quality Analysis, June 26, 2018
18. Seebacher, Lizbeth, Washington State Department of Ecology, Detailed Algal Toxicity Data for Waughop Lake, July 5, 2007 through September 6, 2018, consisting of 352 tests
KMK Comments on Proposed DOE Permit for Alum in Waughop Lake 20190408 Page 12
19. Ackerman, Daniel, This Chemical Turns Polluted Green Lakes Clear. Is it safe?, October 17, 2018
20. Lindauer, Jack and Tepper, Jeffrey, Contrasting Causes of Hazardous Algal Blooms in Two South Puget Sound (WA) Lakes, Geology Department, University of Puget Sound, 2018
21. City of Lakewood, Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program, 2018 Season Report
22. McClellen, Tom, personal communication conveying Powerpoint presentation to be discussed with City of Lakewood personnel, February 28, 2019
23. McClellen, Tom, personal communication conveying results of meeting with City of Lakewood personnel, February 28, 2019
24. McClellen, Tom, comments to Washington State Department of Ecology opposing issuance of General Permit to City of Lakewood for aluminum sulfate treatment, February 23, 2019
25. Karch, K. M., Compilation of 35 articles and letters published in Suburban Times from 2008 through 2019