The sun was out, and it was a glorious three-day weekend.
Under normal circumstances, Summit Lake in northwest Thurston County would have been abuzz with Jet Skis, paddle boards and fishing boats.
But the sparkling blue water was unusually calm Monday. The lawns that skirt the 511-acre lake were quiet too.
Many residents canceled their family get-togethers due to a toxic algae advisory that’s in place, according to Vaughn Hodgins, president of the Summit Lake Community Association.
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“Recreationally, it’s just completely shutdown,” he said.
On May 11, the Thurston County Board of Health declared the Summit Lake toxic algae bloom a community emergency. Health officials have urged residents in the area to avoid drinking, using or even touching the water.
Most people have been taking the county’s advice seriously, especially the part about staying out of the lake and not drinking its water, Hodgins said. And a public access area has been gated off by the state.
Still, there are a few rebels.
“I saw a water skier on Friday,” Hodgins said, shaking his head.
Tests confirmed that a blue-green algae bloom on Summit Lake was producing “extremely high levels” of the toxin Anatoxin-a, a neurotoxin, Thurston County Environmental Health officials announced May 8. Follow-up tests showed the toxin is at dangerous levels, health officials say.
Anatoxin-a is a potent toxin that affects the nervous system. Symptoms include lethargy, muscle aches, confusion, memory impairment, and at sufficiently high concentrations, death, according to the state’s freshwater algae bloom monitoring program.
Tests confirmed that a blue-green algae bloom on Summit Lake was producing “extremely high levels” of the toxin Anatoxin-a, a neurotoxin, Thurston County Environmental Health officials announced May 8.
Although the toxin has been found in other lakes in the region, many residents use Summit Lake’s water as their potable water source, which is why county officials are so concerned about the algae bloom. The next batch of test results are due Friday. The lake will need to have two weeks of safe levels before the advisory can be removed.
Summit Lake has about 430 lakefront lots, and about 200 that border the lake on the opposite side of the road, Hodgins said. Not all of the lots are developed, but some of the homes would have typically hosted large parties over a holiday weekend, he said.
Although nobody has heard of any people getting sick from the lake’s water, there have been reports of about a half-dozen dogs getting sick after playing in the water in the days leading up to the advisory, said Hodgins’ wife, Tracy Larson.
In addition, residents have found five or six dead deer floating in the lake in recent weeks, she said.
Hodgins said that’s an unusual occurrence.
“Our wildlife… are coming to the lake, and have no clue,” he said.
Since the state of emergency was declared, a water truck has been making nightly deliveries at a nearby fire station. It’s become a sort of community gathering spot, according to Linda Darby, who has lived on the lake for 22 years.
“I’ve gotten to know more of the community than I ever have before,” she said. “I think we all have.”
After meeting at the water truck, some of the neighbors have formed a group called the Summit Lake Water Quality Team. So far, the team has about 20 members. A few of them met at Hodgins’ home Monday to share their plans with a reporter and photographer from the Olympian.
The group wants to conduct research, work with government agencies and keep the community informed on water quality issues. At this point, they’re trying to get as much information as possible to deal with the community emergency, Hodgins said. But eventually, the group might work toward creating a lake management district or an area of special concern for the county.
Their goal is simple: Find a way to keep the lake healthy so that it can stay open.
“If we can’t resolve this, there will even be an economic backlash for all of the people who moved here,” Hodgins said. “…I’d hate to see our property values drop.”
Resident Debra Martinelli said she hopes the Water Quality Team can work with county officials to find a funding source for its septic plan update, which would help monitor leaky septics around the lake. Although nobody knows the cause of the toxic algae, health officials say leaky septic systems, animal waste and overuse of fertilizer likely contributed to algae growth in the lake.
If we can’t resolve this, there will even be an economic backlash for all of the people who moved here.
Vaughn Hodgins, president of the Summit Lake Community Association
Many residents are also concerned about the 40 to 50 geese that live at the lake.
Goose poop has one of the highest levels of nutrients that promote algae growth, Hodgins said.
The group also wants to find a regular way to get Summit Lake’s water tested for toxic algae. Right now, the county tests only in response to citizen reports of algae blooms.