Final decision on Capitol Lake must reflect wishes of the community

April 15, 2011 

Thousands of miles from Olympia on a wall in a dusty and deteriorating office in Northern Iraq is a panoramic painting of Capitol Lake and Budd Inlet created, at my request, by a talented local Iraqi artist.

As a lifelong resident of the Puget Sound area, and of the Olympia area in particular, Capitol Lake, Budd Inlet and the Deschutes watershed have always served as powerful and evocative reminders of home. And, for the nine months or so I spent in that country, that painting did just that; reminded me of home, family, and what waited far away.

And so, though it is unlikely given recent developments, I hope that it may yet be possible to reconsider the option of retaining Capitol Lake in something like its present form. Others with a deep attachment to this idea, namely the Capitol Lake Improvement and Protection Association (CLIPA), have presented a reasoned alternative to the plan put forth by the Capitol Lake Adaptive Management Plan (CLAMP) steering committee that I hope may help change the outcome.

Though Capitol Lake, created in 1951, is little older than myself it is not likely to remain in its present form. With the recommendation of the CLAMP Committee to restore the area to an estuary and the defeat of House Bill 1938, which would have required the State Capitol Committee to preserve the area as a lake, Capitol Lake will likely revert to an estuary.

One of the reasons given for the CLAMP decision is cost of maintenance. The CLAMP estimate for maintaining Capitol Lake as a lake is $191 million to $322 million over 50 years compared with $115 million to $225 million for an estuary (Ref. Department of General Administration, “Briefing on Capitol Lake Planning,” 3/21/2011).

A central component of the cost is dredging – required no matter the option chosen – to maintain the area. The CLIPA plan estimates the cost to maintain the lake, over the same period, at $43.3 million to $47.3 million roughly a third of the CLAMP estimate (Ref. “CLIPA Plan for Capitol Lake and the Deschutes Watershed,” March 2011). This is a significant difference and should be considered in determining whether the CLAMP recommendation remains the best option.

Another reason justifying reversion is water quality. The CLAMP Adaptive Management Plan shows that dissolved oxygen levels, important to aquatic life, will improve with the estuary option. That is true but is only one component of water quality.

The CLIPA plan points to the importance of proactive lake and watershed management in maintaining water quality. CLIPA points out that lake management in the years leading up to the CLAMP decision had been lax, including long periods without dredging, which contributed to the lake’s present condition. Better attention paid to managing the lake and mitigating upstream impacts such as septic runoff would improve water quality even with the lake option.

Finally, balancing human and wildlife environmental impacts are considered in both plans. The CLAMP plan, I believe, is the stronger plan for improvements to natural habitat in that it would convert the area back to a more “natural” state.

However, the CLIPA plan takes what I believe to be a more balanced approach in a stronger emphasis on potential negative impacts to the human environment of an estuary, in the form of degraded views, fewer recreation opportunities, and less business and tourism activity, while still looking to improve wildlife habitat.

So I hope that you will take another look at both plans and, whatever your view, work with your local representatives to see that the final outcome best meets the needs of the community as you envision it.

Kevin Deleon, a employee of the state of Washington and of the Washington Army National Guard, is a member of The Olympian’s Diversity Panel. He can be reached

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