Adored in Fenway, Not in Lincoln City
Since we have now made it to the end of the 2012 recreational season it’s time to make a few observations. The season began with two public hearings; the first in May and a second in June where record numbers of the public provided comment on summertime lake levels. At the conclusion of these sessions the board voted to change the target summertime lake level from 9.6 to 9.0 which began on June 15th. In the August board meeting the board established an ending summer lake level target of 8.8 to accommodate the terms of the Districts impoundment permit. The current lake level is at the 8.8 target. In a week the District will remove what remains of the impoundment structure.
As a result of this decision we know by observation that the lake was much lower this year. We know this lower level impacted people as we got many reports from lake uses on how this lower lake level negatively impacted their boating experience. There was however a more significant, more noticeable contrast in the lake this year from previous years. What happened to our lake this year?
On July 26th the District delivered the first Harmful Algal Bloom Surveillance (HABS) report by email as the season’s historic Blue-Green Algae bloom began. This bloom quickly grew into large patches of thick green goo floating around the lake. Early morning visitors to the lake this summer saw significant levels of floating algae over the entire surface of the lake. Significant suspended algae can be found in the water column at almost any location on the lake on any day this summer. Universally residents around the lake communicated their observations that they had never seen water that was in worse shape than this year.
Despite the terrible condition of the water, the lake was never posted beyond a moderate risk. That is because the board changed their methodology for posting where one sample taken at Sand Point on August 28th exceeded cell count standards but did not exceed microcyctin parameters. I support these new guidelines because they are now based on microcyctin levels, there is no real reason to scare the public if there are no toxins in the water threatening their health. This year even though the lake looked terrible, the microcystin levels never topped .9ppb when over 8ppb is the health Department threshold. The mess did however impact most people’s enjoyment of the lake, who would be covered with green dots as they exit the water. So while not toxic the algae was very bothersome.
Another observation this year is related to the temperature of the lake. According to the District’s own measurements the lake saw a 3% increase in the temperature this summer over last summer when levels were higher. This spring, many predicted that lake temperatures would rise with lower water levels. It appears that that this did occur. With different weather this difference in lake temperature could have been more dramatic as average air temperature for Lincoln City were 2% lower this year when compared to the previous year. Lincoln City experienced similar amounts of rainfall during the period of impoundment with 1.6” in 2011 and 1.8” in 2012. This is illustrated in the charts below, click for a larger version.
Devils Lake Temperature
Lincoln City Temp
Lincoln City Precip
There was a presentation given to the Board of Directors at the September meeting which characterized this summers results somewhat differently than we have here. Let just say that we see the situation from a different viewpoint. So in conclusion we cannot say with absolute certainty that the lower lake levels authorized by the DLWID board resulted in the observed higher temperatures and higher levels of summer green algae. It can be said that the board decision on lake level did nothing to improve water quality this summer.
How Much Lower Will It Go
At the July Board meeting Doug McGowan commented he has been on the lake for 20 years and replaced his dock in 2009. He has had adequate water until last summer, which was the first time it was a challenge. He warned that to take the lake down further would be disastrous. The picture shows that at the target lake level of 8.8’ there is less than 6” of water at the transom of his boat. The boat no longer floats and cannot be driven away from the dock. Doug must wait for the lake to rise just to remove his boat from the lake. There are multiple stories such as this on the lake this year.
Many Attend The Second Public Hearing
The second public hearing on lake level began the June 7th Devils Lake Water Improvement District board meeting. This hotly debated issue has occupied space in board meetings over the past four years. Tonight by my count 79 people came to the meeting to share their opinions with the board.
We will cover the discussion in a minute since I’m sure you are more interested in the outcome. After hearing the public testimony the board had a brief discussion and took action. They considered the text of a resolution offered by the public and eventually they came to a decision. The board considered modifying their water right as filed at the Oregon Water Board, which would have been almost impossible to reverse. Instead the motion was made by David Skivin and seconded by Noel Walker to Change the District’s policy concerning lake level. Specifically, it shall be the policy of the District to construct the D-River dam on June 1st each year and begin impoundment on June 15th or when the water level falls to 9.0 feet and established a impoundment height of 9.0 feet MSL. The motion passed unanimously.
The meeting began with Brian Green rendering a position on whether or not any board members should recuse themselves from the decision. He stated that it was his opinion that this was not the case as a conflict is defined as having a financial gain. He stated that no board member had any possibility of financial gain from this decision.
Continuing, the lake manager walked through the same presentation he made at the first public hearing. His material was in favor of lowering the lake and/or never installing the dam. The presentation was 84 slides long and can be found at the previous link. The manager presentation lasted 45 minutes and was followed by a board question and answer period. Those questions related to the size of the gap in the dam, the impact on blue green algae and the impact of the decision on the District’s grass carp application.
The first member of the public was able to begin at 7:15pm. A total of 33 came to the podium and spoke. 9 spoke in favor of the dam removal and 24 opposed it.
The board was presented a petition that was signed by 500 citizens interesting in the lake. The petition requests them to leave the current policy in place with the lake held at 9.53 feet. Several comments from those petitioners were read into the record. A total of 87 of those who signed left comments for the board. It was explained that these signatures were collected online, door to door, and at a few key retail outlets in town. They stated that this method insured that a cross section of lake users is represented. It has some lakefront homeowners, we have some local Lincoln City residents, and it has many signatures from those people who come to Lincoln City to enjoy the lake and the beach. They stay in hotels and vacation homes, eat in local restaurants, and shop at local businesses.
One person said the lake is filling in and that dam is accelerating that process. He felt that the removal of the dam would slow this process. Another described the wetlands like a lung that can’t be water logged and that can’t be good.
Could Lake Level Impact Available Nutrients
During the informational presentation tonight as well as the May 10th meeting there were two slides that challenged the commonly held belief that more water volume equals higher dilution, and lower lake temperatures. The slides claims the actual outcome would be increased dissolved nutrients, increased phosphorus, increased sediments from erosion and septic drain field incursion. The slides also claim there would be higher temperatures with current lake levels. The reasoning included a suggestion that increased surface area and inundated shallows equal greater warming, while deeper water equals greater volume which takes longer to cool.
There was no further explanation of these claims. Most of the audience and at least one board member questioned the concepts presented. Experience has shown that generally large deep lakes seem to have cooler water than small shallow lakes. That’s a pretty subjective observation; might there be better data available? Since water temperature is a basic measurement of water quality it would seem that the District would have a long history of temperature readings in its records that predate the water right. This historical temperature information would have been a valuable data set for the board to use in your deliberations but it has not been provided.
Temperature is just one part of a fundamental set of properties governing lakes; this set includes the interactions of light, temperature and wind mixing. The absorption and attenuation of light by the water column is a major factor controlling temperature. The rate at which light decreases with depth depends upon the amount of light-absorbing dissolved substances (mostly organic carbon compounds washed in from decomposing vegetation in the watershed) and the amount of absorption and scattering caused by suspended materials (soil particles, algae and detritus). Generally, 40% of the light will reach a depth of 5 meters in clear lakes; as the lake becomes more turbid; more light is absorbed and stored in the form of heat. Continue reading
Revisions to Devils Lake Bathymetry
The Devils Lake Water Improvement District (DLWID) contracted with MaxDepth Aquatics, Inc. in 2004 to develop a new bathymetric map and to conduct an analysis of the sediments in Devils Lake. The objective of conducting a new bathymetric survey was to provide a high-resolution map of the lake that could serve as a benchmark against which to judge future changes. The bathymetric survey for Devils Lake was conducted on March 24-25, 2004 at a time when the lake stage was at 8.75 ft MSL. Subsequently, it the District discovered that lake gauges were .22 ft off from the correct elevation and have since been replaced. The result was the publication of a bathymetry map of Devils Lake. Given the relatively low level of the lake at the time of the original study, only minor modifications were required to illustrate levels that might occur should the District fail to install the impoundment structure. To that end, we re-colored the original map moving the color gradient by one value throughout the map.
A careful examination of the original map on the District’s home page and our re-colored version raise some concerns. Our revised bathymetry indicates that the swimming area at Sandpoint could be reduced in size by 20-30% and be limited to 2 to 3 feet in depth. The point near Leisure Bay already very shallow, will have limited water available for safe navigation, less than 3 ft extending nearly 200 feet into the lake. The lakeshore near Rock Creek becomes very shallow extending well into the lake and encompassing the entire D-River. Water levels will be safe for boating in much of the western end of the lake as well as the Marina lobe but with 4 to 6 feet in depth, propeller turbulence will keep bottom settlement suspended all summer long. In addition, it appears every canal as well as Horseshoe Bay will be all but empty as the water level reaches its lowest point. For more information on how these measurements were calculated read the Updated Bathymetry and Paleolimnology of Devils Lake
A Picture Paints a Thousand Words
We wanted to know where the proposed summertime lake level would come to shore on our property. The first image below illustrates today’s lake height which has fallen to 9.2 feet as well as the location that would represent the new shoreline at 8.3 feet. The second image has been altered in photoshop to give a better visual sense of where the actual shoreline would be. The neighbors dock which was rebuilt two summers ago to the new standards has challenging water depth in a normal summer, imagine trying to dock at the new level, perhaps a trailer would help?
- Lake Shore Line at 9.2 Feet
Lake Shore Line at 8.3 Feet (simulated)
Many Interested Parties Attend This First Meeting
It’s hard to believe that this issue was debated during board meetings in 2009, and again in board meetings in 2010. In 2011 the debate morphed into the erosion study with resulted in low lake levels beyond the 4th of July. Tonight by my count 61 people came to the meeting to share their opinions with the board.
The meeting began with the lake manager walking through a presentation in favor of lowering the lake and/or never installing the dam. He cited the request of un-named residents, the results of the erosions study, threatened Coho runs and overall lake health as reasons. The presentation was 84 slides long and can be found at the previous link. The manager presentation lasted ss hours and was followed by a board question and answer period. The first member of the public was able to begin at 6:50pm. A total of 25 came to the podium and spoke.
The board was presented a petition that was signed by 200 citizens interesting in the lake. The petition requests them to leave the current policy in place with the lake held at 9.53 feet. Several comments from those petitioners were read into the record. Continue reading