Federal Way authorizes grant to study mysterious toxic algae in Twin Lakes

The Federal Way City Council authorized a $66,560 Department of Ecology grant on Tuesday to research the cause of toxic algae in Twin Lakes — Lake Lorene and Lake Jeane.

The Federal Way City Council authorized a $66,560 Department of Ecology grant on Tuesday to research the cause of toxic algae in Twin Lakes — Lake Lorene and Lake Jeane.

Although the grant will address the cause of algae in many lakes in Federal Way, residents in the Twin Lakes have been the most vocal about their concerns for Lake Lorene and Lake Jeane in the last year.

“My wife and I, we have a paddle boat, a canoe and when the water looks icky, smells icky, we don’t want to be anywhere near it,” said Lake Lorene resident of 10 years Gerry Wieder. “If we decided we wanted to put our house up for sale, who would want to buy it if it’s near a smelly pond? I’m sure at some point, it impacts property values.”

Wieder said he keeps his pets away from the lake but said kids with inflatable toys often play in the water, which could be hazardous.

The Twin Lakes Homeowners Association appealed to the city for help in October 2014 after already spending $40,000 in homeowner’s fees to pay for a hazardous algae bloom treatment two years ago. The treatment for Lake Lorene was supposed to last at least five years but it came back with a vengeance last summer.

Twin Lakes Homeowners Association president Gary Darcey said they have been working with the city for several years on the algae issues. In addition to treatments, the association has taken many samples and Darcey said they determined the source was Joe’s Creek, a creek that runs off into Lake Lorene.

“We also completed a visual inspection of Joe’s Creek as it wound its way from Northshore Golf Course until it reached Lake Lorene,” Darcey said in an email. “Several items were identified that could be causing our problem but in the end, it was our belief it was a failed septic system or a leaking sewer line.”

Darcey said they took the data to the city, which continued the investigation. However, Dan Smith, a water quality specialist for the city’s Surface Water Management, said they “haven’t found the smoking gun yet” that is causing the hazardous algae bloom.

At a meeting with the mayor, the association and city determined there was a need for the Ecology grant but the association couldn’t afford the required 25 percent match of $16,640. Darcey said that expense, coupled with the cost of their current treatments, was too much.

The city responded by applying for Department of Ecology’s Freshwater Algae Control Program grant funding in November 2014 for a surface and storm water quality study in the upper Joe’s Creek watershed area. As part of the grant agreement, the city paid the match and Ecology shared $49,920, the most that was awarded in the program and the maximum funding amount.

“We are happy it was obtained and look forward to whatever successes are obtained,” Darcey said.

The study’s goal is to identify, control and reduce external sources of pollutants that may be contributing to the hazardous algae blooms.

The study will consist of monthly monitoring of phosphorus, nitrogen, fecal coliform and other pollutants for one year in six locations on Joe’s Creek and storm water outfalls. Hydrologic measurements and precipitation data will also be collected.

The city will allocate about $9,460 from the grant to provide public outreach to the 1,200 residents affected.

This will include a “watershed letter” explaining how to reduce human influenced, non-point sources of nutrients in the lakes. The study will cost $54,600 and the cost of administering the project is $2,500.

Water sampling will begin this October and last until September 2016. At the end of the study, the city will provide a final report to the Department of Ecology as well as analysis of the data.

“The bacteria source tracing effort for the watershed will help identify and quantify sources of bacteria with the purpose of eliminating those sources through municipal and/or county code compliance efforts, or control through watershed public education,” the Water Quality Algae Control Program agreement states.

However, Wieder thinks it isn’t enough.

“Too little, too late,” he said, noting the project’s start time is in October and there’s problems now.

Wieder said he thinks it’s the city’s responsibility to fix the problem, which he believes is caused from the direct flow of storm water drain runoff into Lake Lorene. Although he acknowledged the lakes were privately owned, he said maybe the ultimate direction is for the city to purchase those lakes.

Dan Smith said while it’s true storm water runs directly to the lakes, the storm water is from publicly owned city streets with the majority coming from private sources, such as parking lots, commercial property, yards and golf courses, to name a few.

“With the grant funding, we will be collecting additional samples to measure storm water nutrient loading directly to the lakes,” Dan Smith said. “Other sources of nutrients to the lakes include Joe’s Creek (which receives both groundwater and storm water from upstream sources), internal cycling of lake sediments and groundwater.”

Also, nutrient sources, which feed the toxic algae bloom, can come from over-fertilization (phosphorous) and geese feces (fecal coliform).

However, he said monitoring for fecal coliform could take longer than one year and is hard to fix because geese often congregrate in open grassy areas.

“Two places of concern in the upper Joe’s Creek watershed — that’s the waterway that leads into the Twin Lakes, upper areas are the Northshore Golf Course — manicured grass geese like to graze on,” Dan Smith said. “And Treasure Island park that drains into Lake Jeane and Lake Lorene.”

But the problem, he said, is these are privately-owned areas that the geese congregate at and the city can’t do much about that.

He said Twin Lakes is likely feeling the “brunt of the harmful algae blooms” because Twin Lakes are manmade lakes and they are shallow, which provides for a lot of sunlight that “penetrates deep inside the water bodies.” But until the water sampling is complete, a final report has been delivered, and workshops and public outreach have been completed, the Twin Lakes Homeowners Association is finding ways to help Lake Lorene now.

Darcey said this year, the association has hired a new contractor and volunteer consultant “that have helped beyond expectations.”

There’s been two algaecide treatments so far and Ecology has given the association a permit to try an experimental treatment that, if successful, will rid the lake of nutrients, primarily phosphorus.

Lake Jeane resident Don Everly Smith said the year-long study sounds like they’re “heading in the right direction.”

The treatments will only be temporary, he pointed out, if the source of the nutrients feeding the algae isn’t discovered and controlled.

“If you don’t take out the nutrients, you will be constantly basically treating the effects but not getting to the cause, which are nutrient loads that are still there,” Don Everly Smith said.

And although he thinks the storm water runoff is a big factor, his ultimate request is that all parties work together and communicate mutual rights and responsibilities for long-term management of the lake.

“We’re all in this together and we need to look at who’s responsible and how we can resolve the situation.”

If public outreach and collaboration isn’t reached, then he thinks one other possible solution might be to form a lake management district, a legal entity that can take authority to levy taxes for management of the lake. However, many are against this controversial idea. Dan Smith said if the community so chooses to do that, the city would help with that process.

Throughout this process, he added the city has also engaged King County Public Health and the Washington State Department of Health — the public entities that regulate the public health/public exposure end of things (toxic algae blooms). However, “they don’t seem to have the staffing levels to respond to the Twin Lakes community concerns.”