Vancouver Lake is dying from the proverbial death of a thousand cuts. Development, flood control diversions, point source pollution, siltation, hypoxia, urban and rural runoff and blue-green algae blooms have all taken their toll on this backwater of the Columbia River.
Eurasian milfoil has now been added to that list of threats. The invasive weed has taken hold in the lake and threatens to turn the popular local recreation spot into a soup of strangling vegetation.
The thick tendrils foul boats propellers, choke fish habitat, warm the lake to unhealthy levels, push out native plant species, and makes it dangerous to swim.
The aquatic weed showed up in the lake only two years ago, and by last summer it had covered over 20 percent of the lake.
Now a concerned group of local citizens are stepping in to try and save this vital regional resource. The newly formed Friends of Vancouver Lake, (FVL) hope to find solutions to the lake’s many problems.
They are starting with the milfoil, and the clock is ticking.
When asked how long it would take for the milfoil to claim the entire lake, Jim Luce, the motivating driver behind the new group, said it may only take two years.
“It’s spreading exponentially, fouling the lake for boaters and recreation, and every year it goes by it will get more expensive to treat,” said Luce.
In searching for help with the milfoil and the lake’s other problems, the FVL were forced to navigate the endless array of bureaucracies and regional agencies that share jurisdiction over the lake.
For instance, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has jurisdiction over the fish and wildlife that use the lake. The Department of Natural Resources controls the land under the lake, while the state Department of Ecology has authority over the water in the lake.
And then there are the City of Vancouver, Clark County, and the Port of Vancouver that administrate parts of the lake’s resources.
This summer the Department of Ecology visited the lake and declared the milfoil a serious problem. They suggested chemically treating the aggressive weed with a new herbicide that could wipe out the milfoil, but the treatment will cost from $120,000 to $150,000.
The treatment must be done in the spring months to be the most effective. That leaves the FVL little time to develop a plan and move forward.
Without that treatment the lake faces an existential crisis. Vancouver Lake is eutrophic, which means it is shallow and carries high nutrient levels, perfect conditions for milfoil. It could eventually transform the lake into a boggy, mosquito-ridden marsh.
Another member of the Friends is Alan Stewart of the Vancouver Lake Rowing Club, which maintains a $65,000 racing course on the lake. He reports that blue-green algae forced the cancellation of rowing regattas last summer and fall, and the weeds are now threatening to force more cancellations.
“This milfoil infestation is a serious issue,” said Stewart. “It’s encroaching on the race course right now.”
A trip to the lake in August of 2018 revealed that the weeds were in fact starting to send tendrils out into the racing lanes. If the weeds go untreated it could render the course unusable.
Stewart said the economic costs to the community would be huge if the rowing course is closed. The many regattas held there each year often draw droves of participants and spectators, who drop a lot of money into local coffers.
As for the heavy price of the treatment, the Friends are hopeful some of that can come from local governments. However, they may have to raise the money with donations from the private sector.
They have found allies in the Washington State legislature, including representatives Sharon Wylie, Monica Stonier, and state senator Annette Cleveland, all of District 49.
“They are being very helpful,” said Luce. “We have been reaching out to them, and hopefully we can find some funding through the state.”
Luce is hoping for help from other regional bureaus as well.
“We would like to believe that the city and the port and Clark County will step up and support saving Vancouver lake,” he said.
Luce reports that they have had some very good meetings with commissioners from the Port of Vancouver.
“The Port could invest its financial resources and its personnel resources in helping the community save Vancouver Lake,” he added.
For those citizens that wish to help, the friends ask that they like and follow the group’s Facebook page for now. Concerned people can also contact their state legislators and ask them to help.
Eventually the FVL may be looking for donations, but Luce said that people should keep their checkbook in their pocket, for now. If the Friends of Vancouver Lake start looking for financial help, they will post that on Facebook.
While the FVL are looking forward to a time when some of the larger problems can be addressed, they are sharply focused on the milfoil for now.
And, if they succeed?
“We need a small victory now,” said Luce. “We need a victory and a win, and then there are a lot of issues we can tackle.”
He said they just need to get this victory to build on, but it will take a year to pull it off.
“Just give us a year, and we’ll take it from there. We just need that one year.”