The six House members from Thurston, Mason and Lewis counties are sponsoring a bill that would require the state to maintain the man-made, 260-acre Capitol Lake as a lake, not convert it to an estuary.
The political statement in favor of the lake as an integral part of the Capitol Campus is expected to pass out of committee Thursday, said Rep. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia and the chairman of the State Government and Tribal Affairs Committee, where House Bill 1938 was heard today.
The bipartisan bill drew strong testimony from pro-lake forces and from those who want the state to remove the Fifth Avenue Dam to allow the Deschutes River to flow freely into lower Budd Inlet.
It was the latest chapter in a years-long community debate over the lake versus the estuary.
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The legislation does not include any funding to manage the sediments that pour into the lake at the rate of about 35,000 cubic yards per year. The lake was last partially dredged in 1986 and holds about 60 percent less water than it did when it was formed in 1951.
“I wish this bill weren’t necessary,” said freshman legislator Rep. Chris Reykdal, D-Tumwater. “The lake has been neglected by the state for decades. It’s filling up with sediment and needs some serious resources.”
Reykdal said that during his doorbelling campaign for state office, he heard overwhelming public support for the lake. That support runs counter to a multi-year, $1.7 million study that concluded the Deschutes River estuary is a less expensive and more environmentally friendly option than the lake.
The lake is plagued by poor water quality and invasive species, noted Sue Patnude, a member of the Deschutes River Estuary Team.
“It’s like continuing to smoke when you’re dying from cancer,” she said.
Lake supporters aligned with the Capitol Lake Improvement and Protection Association question the scientific and economic merits of the estuary studies. They said the lake could be healthy and a better option than a mudflats in downtown Olympia, if the state stepped up to its responsibility to dredge lake sediments and curb pollution sources throughout the Deschutes River watershed.
“The lake is in an unmanaged and degraded condition,” said CLIPA member Marc Horton, an environmental engineer. “It’s time to focus on stormwater and watershed management.”
Restoring the estuary would be consistent with other efforts around the region to restore and clean up Puget Sound, said Dave Peeler of People for Puget Sound, an environmental group.
Port of Olympia Commissioner Bill McGregor said the port commissioners support maintaining the lake. For years, the lake has served as a sediment trap for port operations and private marinas in lower Budd Inlet.
Removing the dam would require dredging every three to five years in the lower inlet, McGregor said.
Either option would require dredging. The mid-range cost for lake dredging for 50 years was estimated by consultants at $170 million for the lake and $112.5 million for the estuary. Lake proponents claim the estuary dredging costs are low.
Hunt and Reykdal were joined as bill sponsors by Rep. Gary Alexander, R-Olympia, Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, Rep. Fred Finn, D-Belfair, and Rep. Kathy Haigh, D-Shelton.
Hunt said the bipartisan support bodes well for bill passage in the full House.
Beyond that, the bill’s future is less certain.
Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Thurston County, said she hasn’t studied the measure and can’t predict how it will fare in the Senate if it passes the House.
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