The Pacific Northwest, particularly the seasonally rain-drenched and temperate region west of the Cascades, would seem to be the last place to find lakes fighting for survival. But two dangerous “s” words — shallowness and sediment — could signal the beginning of the end for two beautiful lakes that people have come to love.Residents of Southwest Washington should hope that doesn’t happen to at least two shallow, silted and cherished bodies of water that share numerous similarities.
Vancouver Lake between Fruit Valley and the Columbia River measures 2,414 acres, averages just 3-5 feet deep and for decades has battled multiple natural and man-made pollutants. Silver Lake just east of Castle Rock in Cowlitz County is 2,300 acres with an average depth of just 6 feet. Every year, both lakes confront turbidity problems and invasions of blue-green algae. But they remain scenic treasures in their respective communities and sites for rowing, sailboating, swimming and occasional fishing.
No one — not even any of the experts — is sure what will happen to these two lakes, but that uncertainty is not for lack of trying to find solutions. The worst-case scenario is either or both lakes evolving over many years into swamps. That’s enough to make all of us cheer for the lake-savers.
Despite the similarities of Vancouver and Silver lakes, their respective rescuers come from different sources, one federal and one state. In Vancouver, the latest in a long line of lake examiners is the U.S. Geological Survey, which is in the second year of a three-year, $750,000 study of the lake and tributaries Burnt Bridge Creek and Lake River, as well as the flushing channel from the Columbia River. At Silver Lake, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife is trying to identify causes of turbidity and pollution.
Vancouver Lake has been studied more than Silver Lake. Among the efforts to resuscitate Vancouver Lake and prevent seasonal algae blooms was a $17 million project in the early 1980s that included dredging and construction of the flushing channel. At Silver Lake, the problem takes on a greater human dimension as many residents live directly on the lake. In Vancouver, only a few residents are near the lake, but the view is enjoyed by many more.
As the underdog role expands for Vancouver and Silver lakes, we’re glad the experts are not giving up. However, as Eric Florip reported in Sunday’s Columbian, these lakes are in slow, steady decline. Ultimately, if shallowness and sediment cannot be conquered, the long-term prognosis will worsen. “Silver Lake is not just one problem, it’s a multitude of problems,” said Gary Fredricks in Florip’s story. Fredricks is director of Washington State University’s Cowlitz County Extension. Silver Lake preservationist Elmer Nofziger said, “It’s certainly not going to be a quick fix. And I’m concerned that we may not be able to fix it at all.”
More than the obvious natural attributes are threatened. Recreational opportunities and property values also are at stake.
Kudos to Nofziger and public officials who continue their valiant efforts to save Vancouver and Silver lakes. May those efforts pay off someday soon.