Last week, Dom Reale set up chairs and a table across from Capitol Lake, ready to talk to anyone willing to join him under a small canopy in the rain.
The retired Department of Ecology employee said he breaks from the ranks of fellow environmentalists who want to restore the man-made lake to its natural state as a saltwater estuary.
Reale contends not all estuaries are created equal. He predicts an eyesore will replace the 260-acre lake if the Fifth Avenue Dam is removed and the Deschutes River once again flows freely into Budd Inlet.
“It will become a sea of mud,” Reale said. “If that lake drains, it’s a problem.”
The future of Capitol Lake has been under debate for decades, and Reale is not alone in his passion to solve the dilemma.
A committee of stakeholders is making progress on a long-term management plan for the state-owned lake in downtown Olympia. The latest development is the completion of the management plan’s first phase, which set out to identify goals and options for the lake.
The second phase will continue with a scoping process that — depending on funding from the Legislature next year — could include a full environmental impact statement and a revised estimate of construction costs, starting in early 2018.
In the meantime, the public is invited to attend a community meeting on the project from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Wednesday (Oct. 5) at the state Department of Enterprise Services headquarters, 1500 Jefferson St. SE.
A solution to the lake-estuary dilemma is still at least a decade away. So far, the stakeholder committee has floated five options:
▪ A restored estuary that calls for construction of a 500-foot opening at the Fifth Avenue Dam and installation of elevated boardwalks. This would be the cheapest option.
▪ A managed lake similar to existing conditions. This plan would include the dredging of accumulated sediment from the Deschutes River along with the development of a freshwater wetland habitat in the lake’s south basin.
▪ A managed lake that includes construction of a new stream bed that connects Percival Creek with Budd Inlet. This option is similar to the other managed lake option, only with more improvements for fish and wildlife habitat. It would also be the most expensive option.
▪ A hybrid option in which an estuary would be established on the western portion of the lake. A retaining wall would create a reflecting pool on the eastern part of the site.
▪ A hybrid option that’s referred to as a “dual estuary/lake idea” in which the reflecting pool is larger and has freshwater input instead of saltwater like the other hybrid option.
The most recent analysis, from 2008, shows estimated cost for these lake and estuary options ranging from $66 million to $120 million, depending on which plan is chosen.
The dredging and sediment disposal will be more costly than originally expected because of the New Zealand mud snail, an invasive species that was discovered in Capitol Lake in 2009.
An estuary is considered the cheapest alternative because it would require less dredging and therefore it would cost less to dispose of the sediment, said Jim Erskine, spokesman for the state Department of Enterprise Services. The presence of the mud snail means the sediment must be disposed of at a landfill, for example, rather than in the Puget Sound.
“The mud snail will likely dramatically change the cost estimates,” Erskine said.
The committee for the Capitol Lake effort includes representatives from the cities of Olympia and Tumwater, the Port of Olympia, Thurston County and the Squaxin Island Tribe. The group first met in January after the Legislature, in its 2015 budget, directed the Department of Enterprise Services to “make tangible progress” on the lake’s long-term management plan.