Twin Lakes residents sound off to Federal Way mayor over toxic algae | Photos

Gary Darcey looks out in frustration over the green grime on Lake Lorene that has become a Loch Ness-type monster of its own.

Gary Darcey looks out in frustration over the green grime on Lake Lorene that has become a Loch Ness-type monster of its own.

The toxic blue-green algae bloom separates like a stream of water through thick pea soup as a pair of ducks swim through the lake in Darcey’s backyard.

Lake Lorene was also a mess six years ago, when Darcey first moved to Federal Way’s Twin Lakes area.

“The issue back then was milfoil — underwater weeds that grow up and kind of mat over and algae wasn’t a problem,” he recalled.

He complained enough to the Twin Lakes Homeowners Association that four years ago they made him a board member of the association, which oversees nearly 1,400 homeowners. Now, he’s in charge of managing the private lake as board president.

Darcey first saw the algae two years ago and persuaded the board to pony up $40,000.

“We spent a lot of money for a product called Phoslock that’s supposed to go down and sequester the phosphorous in the bottom of the lake,” he said of the plant nutrients that cause blue-green algae blooms.

The product was last applied to the lake in 2013 and homeowners were assured that algae would not be a problem for at least five years.

“So you can imagine my shock this year when I saw it and it was back,” Darcey said, noting this year is the worst he’s seen the problem. “How can that be? It took me two weeks to finally say, ‘That’s blue-green algae.’ I mean, I couldn’t believe it. I think I was in shock because I had convinced the board to spend all this money.”

He took a sample of the lake eight weeks ago and found out it was toxic. Since then, both Lake Lorene and Lake Jeane — collectively called Twin Lakes — have been closed.

“You’re supposed to stay out of the water,” he said. “So I have two kayaks and can’t use them. We have signs next to the lakes telling people to keep your dogs out of the water, stay out of the water.”

He said he’s heard from many residents, who are “obviously upset. I feel like it’s the [association’s] obligation to maintain a reasonable lake for people to use because we’re paying dues and part of the dues go towards maintaining that lake. We’re just not able to do it. I don’t know why it’s doing what it’s doing.”

For the homeowners and city officials, the source of pollution in the lakes is a mystery.

But after some sampling, Darcey and others believe that Joe’s Creek may be part of the culprit as it contains phosphorous. The creek, which flows through the cities of Federal Way and Tacoma, feeds into the two private, manmade lakes.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do right now,” Darcey said. “I’m scratching my head.”

Neighbors meet with mayor

Darcey recently contacted Mayor Jim Ferrell, who engaged his staff and they put together an action plan to help address the issue. On Tuesday evening, over 40 residents met with Ferrell, city staff and officials from the state Department of Ecology at the Twin Lakes Golf and Country Club, which owns Lake Jeane.

City officials outlined some actions they are taking to help address the issue, before residents had the opportunity to ask questions and express their concerns — from questionable management to goose poop.

Tricia Shoblom, environmental specialist for the Department of Ecology’s Water Quality program, said thanks to a warmer than average summer, toxic algae has bloomed across the state. She said phosphorous materials — including excessive fertilizer and fecal matter — feeds the algae.

Dan Smith, a water quality specialist for the city’s Surface Water Management, got residents’ attention when he noted that a Canada goose defecates 3 pounds per day.

“If you’ve got 30 geese, do the math. That’s 90 pounds per day of fecal matter, so that’s an issue,” Smith said, adding that lakes act as a sink and collect everything in an urban environment.

Shoblom noted that blue-green algae is a liver toxin and can kill a dog within hours.

“It’s a very odd animal,” she said of algae, noting Ecology is working with the city to understand where the sources of pollution in the lakes are coming from. “We don’t understand exactly how it behaves or why it behaves a certain way in one lake versus another.”

So what can city officials do to help the issue?

“This is an important first step to making sure that we can get this addressed,” Ferrell said. “The key thing is, we need to find out exactly what’s causing this. We’re not going to pass the buck; we’re not going to pre-judge this. We’re going to get down to the heart of what’s happening.”

City officials have proposed a plan to monitor the water at five different locations along the watershed. Two of these stations will be located upstream and downstream in Joe’s Creek to monitor flows coming from Northeast Tacoma and Sleepy Hollow in Federal Way. Smith said the city has received complaints in the past that these two sites may be a source of contamination in Twin Lakes.

He noted the city recently did “sort of a reconnaissance” and went to Sleepy Hollow, which has 24 parcels with on-site sewage systems. Twelve homes there are also in close proximity to Joe’s Creek.

“We went down there to look and at first glance, I didn’t find a whole lot, there’s a couple baby goats down there,” Smith said. “There are some RVs with people living in them but I didn’t see any discharge pipes. We’ll continue to look at these things and make sure everything is on the up and up from a water quality standpoint.”

The city will set up a third water sampling station near the Stonebrook development in Federal Way and two more in the inlet and outlet of Lake Lorene.

Smith said every two weeks for the next year, city staff will look at identifying phosphorous concentrations in Joe’s Creek to get an idea of what is typical for the general land-use in the area. The city will be able to detect illicit discharge from sources such as detergents, chlorine and fluoride.

The city will reach out to city of Tacoma officials to find out what they’re doing to address water issues with Joe’s Creek. In addition, staff will conduct targeted workshops to educate residents about what people can do to prevent water pollution and will seek funding from Ecology for a $50,000 freshwater algae grant. If the city is awarded the grant, Twin Lakes residents would be asked to match 25 percent of the funding.

Finally, city staff said they could assist lake residents in forming a lake management district, similar to the districts residents created at Steel and North lakes.

William Appleton, interim deputy director and surface water manager for the city’s Public Works department, said management districts are a “stable funding mechanism that show solidarity that homeowners are willing to invest in the lake.”

But not all residents were persuaded that a lake management district is the answer.

Residents sound off

“You talk a lot about a lake management district, which makes a lot of sense, but until we really know who’s at fault and what’s the prognosis, by forming a district you’re asking a very small number of property owners to address a problem that we don’t own,” one resident said during the meeting.

Ferrell said he understood his sentiment, however, “this may be a great proactive step to make sure you’re the captains of your own destiny.”

During one of the most controversial comments of the evening, the room silenced as Bob Wooley spoke.

“In the discussion that we’re having is that there’s one lake — but there’s two lakes,” he said. “You said your action plan had five stations. There is no station on Lake Jeane, unless you call the outlet to Lake Lorene the inlet to Lake Jeane. My suggestion is that you broaden your five stations to at least six.”

He suggested adding a sixth sampling station to Lake Jeane.

“I don’t see any reason why we can’t,” Smith said.

Several residents also pointed to questionable management of Lake Jeane.

“We all have great praise for Gary leading the homeowners association on behalf of Lake Lorene,” Wooley said. “Some of us who live on Lake Jeane don’t have that same type of orientation from the owners of Lake Jeane, which is the club. We have to wrestle through the fact that we’re dealing with two lakes owned by two different [managers] and two different paths of current short-term activities.

“It says to me that somewhere in this mix, perhaps led by the management system, some people accept that they have a management responsibility for their lake; other folks don’t think they have a management responsibility for the other lake. Perhaps the city can help us manage both lakes better. Now, what I’ve just said is sort of controversial. But it is part of the undercurrent difficulty that we are having and dealing with the management of our collective both lakes.”

Appleton said residents could create a lake management district consisting of both lakes.

Lake Jeane resident Mary Jo Reintsma agreed with Wooley.

“My plea would be to the club people,” Reintsma said. “We pay $75 a month, 12 months a year because we have to belong to the club because we live on the lake. It may be $36,000 a year that we give to the club and this year, to my knowledge, they would not spend one penny on our lake.”

She said it “seems reasonable” that the club could contribute some of those fees to a lake management district that would incorporate both lakes.

However, Paul Richter, who is a member of the Twin Lakes Golf and Country Club’s board of directors, said they have applied treatments to the lake periodically throughout the years.

“We did not do anything this year and the reason is we’re following the lead of what the homeowners association was doing on Lake Lorene,” Richter said in a phone interview, noting the association wasted their money because the algae grew back. “From our perspective, we’re a downstream victim, if you will, of what’s upstream and that’s why we are following the lead of Lake Lorene management.”

He said the club is willing to work with homeowners and the city if the city identifies a viable solution.

Other residents were concerned about goose excrement and how to control geese, if they are contributing to the pollution.

“I’m stuck on this 90 pounds of goose doo,” said Kim Paustian. “We already know that that’s there and I love the geese, they’re fun to watch, that’s great. I don’t want them in my yard, I shoe them off. But we’ve got to do something about the geese and as homeowners, we can’t. Who can?”

Tom Moehlman said he’s noticed that when the cattails are all pulled off, the geese have “perfect access” to the lake.

“I watch the geese every morning walk up onto Treasure Island Park right where my cattails fold out,” Moehlman said.

Ten years ago, the homeowners association commissioned Herrera Environmental Consultants to do a study, he noted.

“They suggested exactly what you’re suggesting,” Moehlman said. “Do a phosphorous study to find out where the phosphorous is from. Before we go eliminating the geese, let’s make certain that we’ve done a phosphorous study and that your guess isn’t wrong.”

Wooley asked if the city has a geese management program.

“This phenomenon that presents itself every summer is the condition of our lakes,” he said. “The persistent entity are the geese that roam both lakes plus Treasure Island Park. On the pathway, you do not gaze forward, you gaze down.

“There’s some entities that live on Lake Jeane and elsewhere that are critter lovers and there’s those that would be more aggressive towards the geese if they are on our property. Has the city had a program of reducing the impact of geese on the lakes that would be sanctioned here in Lake Jeane and Lake Lorene country, acceptable to the city as far as us being proactive towards the geese?”

Appleton said the city does not have any such programs with respect to geese management. However, he said the Steel Lake Management District is currently vetting this very question, which will go before the Council in November.

Ducks leave tracks through the algae on Lake Lorene. Carrie Rodriguez, the Mirror


Federal Way resident Gary Darcey points out the toxic blue-green algae bloom on Lake Lorene in his backyard. Carrie Rodriguez, the Mirror


Federal Way resident Gary Darcey has not been able to use his kayaks on Lake Lorene for over eight weeks, thanks to toxic algae that closed the lake. Carrie Rodriguez, the Mirror


Lake Lorene in Federal Way. Carrie Rodriguez, the Mirror