Despite covering about 2,300 acres, being referenced in the diaries of Lewis and Clark, and annually providing recreation for locals and visitors alike, Vancouver Lake is a bit of an orphan.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has jurisdiction over wildlife around the lake; the state Department of Natural Resources controls the lake bed; the state Department of Ecology has authority over the water; Vancouver-Clark Parks & Recreation runs a park adjacent to the lake; and the nearby Port of Vancouver administers some of the lake’s resources, including a flushing channel.
As a well-known proverb says, “Success has many fathers; failure is an orphan.” For Vancouver Lake to avoid being a failure, the city of Vancouver, Clark County and the Port of Vancouver must combine resources and efforts to help the lake achieve its potential as a recreation spot and an economic driver for the region.
In recent years, a nonprofit formed by interested citizens has taken on parenting duties. Friends of Vancouver Lake formed out of concern over an infestation of milfoil — an invasive aquatic plant that threatened the health of the lake. The organization successfully lobbied state officials for a permit to treat the milfoil with an herbicide, which effectively has controlled the plant but likely will require additional applications.
Meanwhile, other issues remain, with water quality and algae breakouts annually being areas of concern. Without dedicated, coordinated government action, keeping Vancouver Lake accessible will require a never-ending series of stopgap measures.
“It will be basically whack-a-mole,” said Jim Luce, a member of Friends of Vancouver Lake, during a recent meeting with The Columbian’s Editorial Board. “One of the long-term goals is to improve access; it’s a great community asset.”
The benefits of that asset will be on display next month. The USRowing Northwest Youth Championship Regatta is scheduled for May 19-21, bringing an estimated 1,500 rowers and their families to Vancouver. In addition to the environmental aspects of preserving the lake, “There’s an economic component that’s equally important,” Ted Gathe told the Editorial Board.
That is where the city, county and port must come in. From 2004 through 2014, the Vancouver Lake Watershed Partnership oversaw management of the lake; then it fell apart, apparently from a lack of interest. A still-existing website for the partnership notes that the “next” meeting is scheduled for Jan. 27, 2015. It also explains: “Vancouver Lake is valued as a regional community treasure and environmental resource. It supports healthy, diverse native plant and animal communities and offers a wide variety of recreational uses.”
In addition to the traditional stakeholders, the Port of Ridgefield might also have a newfound interest in the lake. Port officials are working to develop the waterfront along Lake River, which runs between Vancouver Lake and the Columbia River, passing through Ridgefield. Therefore, they have a vested interest in water quality and environmental issues regarding the lake.
Among the issues, according to Friends of Vancouver Lake members, is a flushing channel that runs between the southern end of the lake and the Columbia River. They say the channel is too small to allow for adequate water flow, allowing for the accumulation of toxins and sediment.
Regardless of what solutions are necessary, it should not be left to a handful of citizen activists to save a regional treasure. Local governments should claim responsibility for Vancouver Lake.