by Richard Uhlhorn
Lake Chelan’s near shore ecology is changing, and not in a good way. The bottom is turning green with invasive plants and algae. To find out more about this environmental change, an estimated 35 residents attended a public forum on Wednesday, December 14, at the Chelan Fire Hall. The forum was hosted by the “Keep it Blue” program with an emphasis on Invasive Species.
The final message of the meeting was that it takes a big village to protect Lake Chelan. This forum outlined the emerging issues in near shore lake quality with the increase in Eurasian Milfoil, pond weed and algae growth.
According to a recent study of the near shore environment, invasive plants have covered 520 acres of the bottom in Wapato Basin with some showing up in the Lucerne Basin.
In comparison, Phil Long, executive director of the Lake Chelan Research Institute, reported that in 2014 there was only 12.1 acres of milfoil and Curlyleaf Pondweed in lower basin.
“A long, skinny lake creates a lot of challenges,” said Long. During the summer months, the Institute hired Lake Defense Force for a 3.5 day test run of DASH (diver assisted suction harvesting) off Key Bay and Minneapolis Beach to remove milfoil and pondweed. The test was paid for by private money.
The dive crew removed 900 pounds of invasive weeds, but it was estimated to cost close to a $9,9 million to eradicate the invasive plants from the lower basin using the DASH system.
How did the Wapato Basin go from only 12.1 acres of invasive plants to 520 acres in seven years?
There are many contributing factors, but the primary factor could be recreational boats from other areas bringing in the plants. Long noted that invasive plant growth on the bottom was heavier underneath off shore boat tie-ups.
Another factor is waterfowl poop from geese and ducks. It was learned that Wapato Point has a waterfowl management program including hunting. That, unfortunately, would be a problem off Indian land. Years ago it was tried at Lakeside, but the public outcry was enough to stop the practice.
Fishing Guide Joe Heinlen (an ex-employee of Washington State Fish & Wildlife) has alleged that fish hatchery plants in Lake Chelan could be adding invasive plant life to the lake. “They are the only agency I know of putting non-Lake Chelan water into the lake.”
The solution to the invasive plant issue is selective harvesting using the DASH program or, as suggested to the Research Institute, have a community beach clean-up (weeding) of the plants when the lake is down.
Chelan City Councilman Peter Jamtgaard suggested using bulldozers on the beach to remove the plants when the lake is down, but that could be another expensive exercise, one the Department of Ecology might not approve of.
In the past, cold winter weather has helped the problem by freezing the invasive plants out. With this season’s unusually cold weather, that might be natures solution to the issue.
The algae issue is gaining concern amongst lake residents. “The public is highly concerned,” said Long. “We are hearing it more and more.”
The contributing factors of the algae growth on the shoreline, pilings and docks can definitely be attributed to waterfowl. Goose leavings has become such a big problem that Campbell’s Resort, Lakeside Lodges & Resort, The Lookout and Wapato Point have put up funding to find a solution to the waterfowl poop that covers their swimming docks.
The other factor contributing to the algae issue is lakeside home owners over fertilizing their lawns which helps to keep their lawns green but also contributes to the greening of the underwater shoreline.
This coming year, a new boat inspection program will begin on Lake Chelan. The program will utilize a mobile cleaning/inspection unit on weekends and during water based events that bring watercraft to the lake from other areas.There will also be a CD3 Waterless Wash Stations located in the area.
All of the major boat launches will have inspections this coming boating season. Locals who use the lake, but don’t take their watercraft to other bodies of water, will be given a pass after one inspection. Neighborhood Inspection Parties are planned for locals.
The big fear is the potential introduction of Quadra and Zebra mussels to the lake. If introduced to the lake, these invasive species could cost up to $600 million to eradicate.
Fortunately, the State of Washington has recognized the potential problem and now has boat inspection stations at all major entries to the State from the east, south, west and north. They even have dogs trained to sniff out invasive species on watercraft.
“Public involvement is important to make this all work,” said Lisa Dowling, a natural resource specialist with Chelan County. She is also the lead proponent for the Keep It Blue program (keepitbluelakechelan.com). The Keep It Blue website has a lot of information concerning the health of Lake Chelan and the efforts to keep the lake pristine.
The Lake Chelan Research Institute will continue to monitor lake quality with an emphasis on near shore issues in the coming year.