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News / Clark County News

Algae treatment plan in works to keep Vancouver Lake swimming open as long-term strategies developed

Public has opportunity to weigh in on Vancouver Lake and other water quality programs

By Shari Phiel, Columbian staff writer
Published: April 6, 2024, 6:02am
3 Photos
Blue-green algae blooms as seen in 2021 at Vancouver Lake. Toxic algae blooms often force closure of the lake during swimming season.
Blue-green algae blooms as seen in 2021 at Vancouver Lake. Toxic algae blooms often force closure of the lake during swimming season. (Courtesy of Philip Parshley) Photo Gallery

Warm summer days aren’t far away, and neither is the return of Vancouver Lake’s algae bloom. This year may be different, though.

“We will be working to develop a beach algae treatment plan … with the goal to complete treatment at the beach to help prevent recreational swim beach closures,” Devan Rostorfer, Clark County Public Works’ Clean Water Division manager, said Friday.

Rostorfer said the county has been working closely with Friends of Vancouver Lake and Vancouver Lake Rowing Club on the beach treatment plan.

“Implementing a beach treatment plan is really a shorter-term solution that can help ensure the public is able to enjoy Vancouver Lake,” she said, adding that long-term solutions are more difficult to identify and implement and require cooperation between the county, the cities of Vancouver and Ridgefield and others.

In 2021, state funding was awarded to the county for the design of a long-term plan to restore and maintain Vancouver Lake’s water quality. The county hired Herrera Environmental Consultants, which worked with other consultants, stakeholders and the public to study historical data, identify goals and objectives, and develop and evaluate management practices before creating a final management plan in August.

Rostorfer said the first phase was focused on creating the lake management plan and identifying recommendations for next steps. Now, the county is ready to implement its key recommendations, Rostorfer said.

She said the county will work with stakeholders and the technical advisory group to develop a public participation plan. Other work will include how to create special taxing districts to help fund the cleanup.

“What’s really exciting is that Friends of Vancouver Lake was successful in securing another legislative proviso for approximately $330,000 for a one-time grant from the Department of Ecology that will be passed through to Clark County to implement a second phase of work,” Rostorfer said.

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The county council is expected to accept the grant at its April 16 meeting.

A seasonal scourge

As popular as Vancouver Lake is for recreation opportunities, it is equally plagued by seasonal algae blooms and pollution. The 2,300-acre lake is wide and shallow, often no more than 5 feet in depth. The stagnant water is heated by the sun, and the warm water encourages algae and bacterial growth.

Additionally, drainage from neighboring homes and golf courses empty into nearby creeks that feed into the lake. That runoff contains nutrients such as iron, nitrogen and phosphorus that encourage plant and bacterial growth. Hidden shallow groundwater containing the same nutrients is the lake’s second source of pollution.

“The No. 1 recommendation from the lake management plan … was to continue to evaluate and understand opportunities to improve lake flushing,” Rostorfer said.

She said the county will evaluate solutions to improve lake flushing during this next phase of work, specifically looking at the flushing channel that has historically been an issue.

“Through this second phase, we are hiring an engineering team to come up with conceptual designs for different alternatives that will ultimately help improve the flushing of the water,” she said.

The public still has an opportunity to weigh in on priorities for Vancouver Lake and other water quality programs.

Public Works is asking residents for input via a survey about the programs, activities and services they think are most important. Information from the survey, which is open through April 22, will be used to guide planning efforts.

The survey asks residents why rivers and lakes are important to them and how the county should protect and improve water quality. It also asks how much they value various services provided, such as street sweeping and leaf disposal coupons.

The survey is available at https://clark.wa.gov/public-works/stormwater. Residents can also take the survey over the phone or request a paper copy by contacting Alice Millward at alice.millward@clark.wa.gov or call 564-397-5267 between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and every other Friday.

Community Funded Journalism logo

This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.