Capitol Lake can’t wait for us to get our act together

OlympianJuly 23, 2013 

Three years after a Capitol Lake advisory committee recommended turning Capitol Lake back into the Deschutes River estuary, very little has happened in large part because the issue is so politically polarizing. Meanwhile, the lake keeps filling up with sediment, slowly turning into a freshwater marsh....(STEVE BLOOM)staff photographer

STEVE BLOOM — Staff photographer

South Sounders can complain all they want about a do-nothing Congress, or partisan deadlock in the state Legislature, but that and a couple of candidates’ campaign yard signs won’t get us very far. There is one log jam right in front of our noses, however, on which local citizens can have a significant impact: Capitol Lake.

As Olympian columnist John Dodge reminded us in a recent Soundings column, it’s been decades since the annual Lakefair festival had any connection to Capitol Lake.

More to the point, its been four years since the nine-member Capitol Lake Adaptive Management Plan (CLAMP) issued its split-vote recommendation to revert the 250-acre lake into a tideflat mixing salt and fresh water from the Deschutes River.

Yet nothing has changed.

Well, nothing except another 140,000 cubic yards of sediment has flowed down the river and continues to clog the lake and Budd Inlet at the rate of 35,000 cubic yards per year.

Many of the elected CLAMP committee players have changed, too, putting the original recommendation in question.

The issue is so politically charged that the state Department of Enterprise Services (DES) won’t touch it, and the Legislature is running away as fast as it can from any sign of favoring a lake or estuary.

More importantly, neither the State Capitol Committee, which is the ultimate decision-maker on lake issues, nor the nine-member Capitol Campus Design Advisory Committee is showing any interest whatsoever in dipping its toes into these snail-infested waters.

That’s a shame, because, as Dodge points out, no decision seals the lake’s future as a freshwater marsh.

It’s time for state legislators, the two capitol committees and the DES to take responsibility and make a decision one way or the other.

The first step toward that goal is developing a public-private partnership for funding the ongoing dredging of the lake, which is required regardless of whether it remains a lake or becomes a tideflat. The 2013-2015 state budget wisely directs DES to prepare such a plan.

In the long term, though, the lake can’t be considered in isolation. Any environmentally sound comprehensive plan has to include the Deschutes watershed, Capitol Lake and lower Budd Inlet.

Assessing the impact of any decision on the lake within the larger context of the entire watershed and Puget Sound makes sense. Involving the state, county, city of Olympia, Port of Olympia, Squaxin Island Tribe, property owners and other stakeholders is the only fair and reasonable pathway to making progress.

We understand why all the influential parties are afraid of making a move. But someone needs to step up into a leadership role.

It’s irresponsible for those in a position to drive this issue forward to keep hiding their heads in the mud.

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