Lake Chelan water quality is up to the public

by Richard Uhlhorn


Lisa Dowling, Chelan County Natural Resources Department.

With an estimated 2 million visitors each year, the importance of keeping ‘Lake Chelan Blue’ is becoming more and more important.

A lot of behind the scenes water quality monitoring and water supply issues are being addressed, however, a major move forward is the new website that has a lot of information on how the public can become involved and help protect the lake quality.

There are a number of ways to donate and soon there will be Keep It Blue campaign stickers, a rack card, and a membership donation portal.

Check out the new website here:

The Lake Chelan Watershed Planning Unit met on Wednesday, March 10, to receive updates on a number of issues facing the unit. These include Water Supply, Water Quality, Aquatic Invasive Species, the upcoming “Keep It Blue” campaign, and regular updates from the Lake Chelan Research Institute, Lake Chelan Fishery Forum and the US Forest Service.


Candis Graff, DOE, Program manager.

“We are a year behind what I thought we would be,” said Graff. “We are working on the first batch of applications and have eliminated three who are not interested.” RH2 is working with the remaining seven, three of which are ground water applications and four are surface water applications. One has requested irrigation water from Fish Creek. “I’m really jazzed with how things are going. We have 11 in the second batch.

Mike Kaputa asked if she had any insight on delays they could address in the future? Graff replied that the process was delayed by the Pandemic. “We did not have a process in place for reviews for the financial office.” Applicants were having issues with scanning paperwork and some were not at the residences where applications were mailed. “I would like to see review times shortened,” she added.

Mike Kaputa reported on the progress of the large area permitting. “This permit covers all of Lake Chelan,” said Kaputa. He also reported that the County has purchased water rights from Bear Mountain Water District.

Final postings will be in place by mid-March and the Water Code will be done by April 1. “We can start issuing that water and we will be able to address home who are those folks get paper work.


Lake Chelan in eastern Washington stretches 55 miles into the North Cascades and is considered one of the three cleanest lakes in the contiguous United States. It is also the third deepest lake at 1500 feet behind Crater Lake in Oregon and Lake Tahoe in Nevada. The Lake Chelan Valley was carved during the ice age and is known for its world famous apples that are exported throughout the world. It is also becoming a major wine destination with tourists who enjoy visiting the 30 boutique wineries.

Phil Long, LCRI – Keith Seiders, DOE Environmental Assessment Program.

Keith Seiders, DOE, presented the departments 2021 Fish Sampling Status and Schedule to the group. They will be mimicking the 2003-2010 sampling of fish for the Toxic Studies Unit.

These are the sampling sites for Lake Trout (Mackinaw) that will be used to mirror the 2003/2010 sampling for DDT and other chemicals.

Lake Trout (Mackinaw) in Lake Chelan have some of the highest toxicity levels in the Nation. “Our focus will be on the Wapato Basin,” said Seiders. “We don’t understand what is happening. It will be interesting to see the results of our 2021 sampling program.”

The draft plan will be finished in early April. “We might need bodies to help collect fish,” said Seiders, indicating that fishermen could volunteer to help out. Seiders can be reached at 360-407-6689.

Clay Patmont, a member of the Watershed Planning Unit and board member of the Lake Chelan Research Institute asked Seiders when the results of the fish sampling study would be available. Seiders replied that a lot of operations have slowed down because of COVID and that Ecology would try to get a report out within two years.

Phil Long, Lake Chelan Research Institute, asked Patmont about lead/arsenic levels in the sediments or lake. Patmont replied that typically they have not studied lead levels because it doesn’t tell them much. However, there are a variety of arsenic compounds found in residential soils. “We know there is elevated levels of arsenic,” said Patmont. DDT is moving around in the system and Lake Trout have the highest levels in the Nation. There was a lot of use of arsenic along with DDT.”

Seiders added that they found arsenic in 2003 and Patmont said that dissolved inorganic arsenic in the sediment is a concern. “It enters the water high up on the food chain.”

Long stated that sediment cores should show some pattern use of arsenic in Manson. “I think that is important to look at,” said Long. As for the fish sampling program, Long suggested that the fishing guides on Lake Chelan are busy and it would be a good idea to lock down some dates for sampling as early as possible.

Kaputa added that there are some land mines around the issue of arsenic and DDT and that it is important how the messaging is distributed between efforts. “Keep engaging with this group,” Kaputa said.

Long gave a quick presentation of the Research Institute’s water quality monitoring efforts. “Covid impacted our work in 2020,” said Long. “We hope to get a full data set in 2021.”

Water clarity hasn’t changed much since the 80s. Total phosphorus is well within the TDML guidelines.

More emphasis will be placed on near shore quality studies in the future because of an increase in algae along the shorelines that have residents asking why. “I heard a lot of that last year,” said Long. “We will focus on near shore water quality.”

The Lake Chelan Reclamation District is monitoring water quality at its irrigation water intake every other week. Since 2017, the Sunset Marina station has been monitoring the water every 15 minutes.

This coming water quality monitoring will include a look at chemical fertilizers entering the lake and septic system monitoring. From August to September, an Aquatic Invasive Species survey will be conducted.

A storm drain warns not to dump any pollutants because the stormlines are connected to a stream that support fish.

One of the priority programs being planned is a Diver Assisted air lift program to try and remove milfoil and Asian clams. This program will cost in the neighborhood of $25,000. Twelve foot tall patches of milfoil has been located in front of homes in Minneapolis Beach. Funding for this effort came from Ann Congdon. The Institute is hoping to have $30,000 available for the August-September work.

Long is hoping to conduct near-shore real time monitoring. The devices are available at $12,000.

Seiders asked Long about sampling sediments for DDT loads and Long replied that would be a part of the 2021 studies. Seiders considers the core sampling as high priority and offered to help with that effort.

One of the biggest concerns is the introduction of an invasive species like Zebra mussels to Lake Chelan. Once introduced they multiply rapidly and can cause millions of dollars to eradicate.

Signage is being used to educate boaters on how they can help keep
invasive species out of Lake Chelan

A Watercraft Inspection Program with two mobile units is slated to begin in 2022, but until that time, boaters are being asked to be very careful to not transport invasive species to the lake. This program is being funded by the National Park Service for one year. It will support staff training, equipment, and labor to implement inspections on weekends and during water based tournaments (hydroplane and sailing events).

5-litre hydro planes race to the start/finish line for the start of their race at the annual Lake Chelan Hydrofest. In the future these and other boats associated with events will be inspected for invasive species before being allowed to run.

In addition to protecting the lake from the influx of invasive species from the recreational boating public and other water related events, a new threat has surfaced. Zebra mussels have been detected in aquarium moss balls.

Zebra mussels have been found in ‘Beta Buddy’ moss balls for aquariums. The concern is that aquarium water could be dumped into the watershed and introduce these invasive mussels to that watershed.

Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW) enforcement agents investigated and removed 56 “Beta Buddy” moss balls from a Seattle area PetCo store and visually confirmed the presence of at least 12 Zebra mussels. It’s report can be found here:

The next Watershed Planning Unit meeting will be held in June.

Author: allthingslakechelan

I have been a journalist, photojournalist and reporter in the Lake Chelan Valley since 1988; first with the Wenatchee World, then 15 years at the Lake Chelan Mirror and another 12 years at GoLakeChelan. Currently, I am semi-retired but can't give up the media gig which is why I started All Things Lake Chelan blog. I also have two social media platforms; allthingslakechelan/facebook and lakechelansportsandrecration/facebook. I am also a professional photographer with many credits with major outlets around the world.

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