Submitted by Don Russell.
On June 14, 2022, without prior announcement or consultation, we City of Lakewood 22-year citizen volunteer lake water quality monitors received the following email notice from the Pierce Conservation District.
“We are saddened to let you know that after 22 years of monitoring and over 20 engaged volunteers, we are closing the Lake Monitoring Program at the end of this year. Since 2000, the Cities of Lakewood, Bonney Lake and Milton have participated in lake monitoring programs. We provided key watershed health data to our partners and agencies to help them make informed water quality decisions. This data was featured in PCD annual reports to our partners and volunteers.”
“We want to thank our Pierce Conservation District (PCD) Stream Team and Lake monitors for their commitment to water quality monitoring and being the “eyes and ears of our watersheds.” More than 2,000 of you have participated in either stream or lake monitoring. We will be sunsetting these programs due to staff changes and need for program support for our jurisdictional partners.”
One of the Pierce Conservation District’s jurisdictional partners was the City of Lakewood. This year the City decided to stop supporting and funding its 22-year citizen volunteer lake water quality monitoring Program.
It is instructive to review how this Program came into being, its accomplishments over this span of years and the significance of its demise.
The Program’s Origin
During the winter of 1988-1989 American Lake experienced a harmful cyanobacteria bloom (HAB) that poisoned 11 pets, 5 of whom died. This was the first recording of such an HAB event in Western Washington. It piqued the concern of the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department (TPCHD).
In 1991-1992 a TPCHD sponsored Lake Restoration Study was conducted to determine the cause of this bloom and its prevention. It was concluded that American Lake’s bottom sediments had become polluted over the years with high concentrations of phosphorus being discharged from on-site septic systems located along American Lake’s unsewered eastern shoreline into the groundwater that flows into the lake. The study recommended a lake wide alum treatment to inactivate the phosphorus that had accumulated in the bottom sediments of 1100-acre American Lake. This recommendation was rejected by American Lake shoreline landowners who were expected to pay for this million-dollar treatment.
Recurring toxic algal blooms followed each year thereafter until a second American Lake study was conducted in 1996-1997 by Pierce County Surface Water Management to confirm the results of the first study. This second study challenged the finding of the first study regarding the source of phosphorus found in the bottom sediments of American Lake. It concluded that the phosphorus source was likely from organic rich muck soil located southeast of American Lake, thus was a natural condition. This time the Study’s recommendation was to implement an American Lake water quality monitoring program to assess progress of any future attempts made to prevent harmful cyanobacteria blooms (HABs) from occurring in American Lake.
In 1994-1995 Lake Steilacoom was studied to determine the cause of its recurring harmful cyanobacteria blooms and actions necessary to prevent them. This was followed by a second study. As was the case in American Lake, two competing explanations were articulated by these two studies. That is, on-site septic system phosphorus pollution vs. phosphorus from natural organic rich soils being conveyed to the lake by groundwater.
In 1999 the City of Lakewood requested that the Pierce Conservation District develop and implement a citizen volunteer lake water quality monitoring program to assess the progress of efforts being made to prevent these HABs from occurring in American Lake, Lake Steilacoom, and, later, in Waughop Lake. This Program was finally implemented in 2000.
The Program’s Accomplishments
The City of Lakewood’s citizen volunteer water quality monitoring personnel made significant contributions to our understanding of the cause of HABs in Lakewood lakes and their prevention during its 22-year life.
Whereas the City of Lakewood never valued or used the data gathered by its citizen volunteer Lake Water Quality monitoring program to manage water quality in its Waughop Lake or Carp Lake stormwater runoff detention and infiltration pond, other jurisdictions found the data invaluable.
In 2004 the death of a dog from cyanobacteria poisoning on Lake Steilacoom led to the creation of Ecology’s Freshwater Control Algae Control Program whose intent was to act to prevent HABs from occurring in the nutrient polluted lakes of Washington.
In 2012 the citizen volunteer lake water quality monitors drafted a Waughop Lake Restoration Plan that described the cause of Waughop Lake’s recurring HABs and proposed an action plan for their prevention, at no cost to the City of Lakewood. The City opted instead to hire Brown & Caldwell to prepare a $200,000 dollar Waughop Lake Management Plan.
In 2019 the citizen volunteer water quality monitors pleaded with the City of Lakewood to not implementation a consultant recommended $420,000 alum treatment of Waughop Lake. When these pleas were ignored, we citizen monitors advised the City Council of the adverse ecological impact that such an unnecessary and costly alum treatment would have on Waughop Lake’s water chemistry and related biological response.
The predicted Waughop Lake adverse environmental impact has indeed been realized as a result of the City Council failing to heed its constituents’ expressed concerns about this alum treatment.
The data generated by Lakewood’s citizen volunteer lake water quality monitoring program was used in a five-year Federal CDC/TCPCHD study of the adverse effects that HABs were having on water quality in several Pierce, King and Snohomish County nutrient polluted lakes.
The Washington Department of Health used the data from Lakewood’s Lake Water Quality Program to assess the extent to which fish in Waughop Lake were accumulating cyanotoxin in their internal organs and flesh and thus pose a health hazard to its fishermen.
The data collected by this Program inform the landowners surrounding American, Gravelly, Louise and Steilacoom Lakes of the current water quality conditions in their lakes so that they could select the most appropriated and cost effective water quality treatment options to prevent excessive aquatic plant growth, filamentous green algae and harmful cyanobacteria blooms in their water quality managed lakes.
Lakewood Water District reported in its 2021 Annual Water Quality & Business Report under the title “Monitoring Our Lakes and Streams”
“The lake levels are indicators of the water table level in the Steilacoom Gravel, deposited by the receding Vashon Glacier. Water in the gravel also leaks through the Vashon till or springs out above the till, adding to the flows of the area’s major springs such as Ponce de Leon, Chambers, Garrison, and Sequalitchew. The District collects monthly data from gauges on Ponce de Leon and on five lakes. (American, Gravelly, Hidden, Louise, and Waughop). This information, together with the data collected from the Pierce Conservation District Stream Team is vital to the District’s Aquifer Management Program as well as the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department’s long-term groundwater monitoring program.”
The consequence of the demise of the City’s citizen volunteer lake/stream water quality monitoring program
Lakewood’s lake and stream shoreline property owners, City of Lakewood’s park attendees, and consumers of Lakewood Water Department’s water will no longer have the assurance that the City of Lakewood’s groundwater, stream and lake water quality is being monitoring and managed to assure its safe beneficial uses as a result of Pierce Conservation District’s and City of Lakewood’s unilateral and irresponsible decision to discontinue ongoing support for its Stream Team and Lake Water Quality Monitoring Programs.