Water tests for Lake Quinalt come back relatively clean

Despite safe levels, tribe does not plan to reopen to public

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Aberdeen — There's nothing alarming about Lake Quinault's water quality, according to a study by Grays Harbor County. In fact, measured E. coli levels in the lake are far below the federal Environmental Protection Agency's threshold for safe recreational use.

But the Quinault Indian Nation has no plans to reopen the lake to non-tribal boating and fishing, according to Steve Robinson, a spokesman for the tribe.

The county tested 70 water samples over the course of 19 days, finding an average of 1.5 colony forming units of E. coli per 100 milliliters of water, with 21 colony forming units being the largest amount of contamination found in a single test. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends a water quality cutoff of 126 colony forming units.

The test was requested by Tom Gibbons, water resource manager for the Quinault Indian Nation, after the tribe closed the lake to all nontribal fishing in April and nontribal swimming and boating in June. The fishing and boating restrictions remain in place, but the swimming restrictions were lifted in early July.

Quinault officials initially cited pollution as the reason for the closure.

"We are very concerned about water quality in the lake," said Quinault President Fawn Sharp in an April 16 press release. "We are concerned that non-tribal septic systems from surrounding homes and businesses may have resulted in a severe problem with untreated sewage and caused serious health concerns."

Dave Bingaman, natural resource director for the Quinault Indian Nation, said tribal officials expected to find more E. coli contamination in the lake, as previous tests have found lower water quality.

"We're early in our water quality sampling," Bingaman said. "We have 24 sites that we're testing and we have not found hugely polluted samples yet. We're not sure why, because we found them in earlier tests."

Bingaman said one of the sites the tribe is monitoring is the July Creek outlet to Lake Quinault, located on the northern shore of the lake, as high levels of E. coli have been found there in the past. But he said those E. coli spikes weren't necessarily the result of human pollution.

"There are a lot of causes of E. coli in the lake," Bingaman said. "It could be humans, it could be wild animals, it could be cows. And the problem is we can't control what goes into the water upstream."

E. coli levels could also increase in November when there is more rain runoff feeding into the lake, Bingaman said. His department is currently working on a comprehensive management plan.

But E. coli contamination isn't the Quinault Indian Nation's only concern when it comes to lake health. Bingaman said that they're also concerned with invasive species, such as Brazilian elodea and New Zealand snails, being introduced to the lake. He said none have arrived so far, but his department is working on a plan to deal with them just in case.