The Lincoln City City Council sounded serious Monday night about doing something about Devil’s Lake pollution. Hundreds of aging septic tanks around the lake are nearing the end of their service lives. Hawker says many are already leaking only partially treated human sewage into the lake via groundwater leeching. The nutrient-loaded waters of the lake contributed by humans and their animals, along with wildlife droppings, are causing some areas of the lake to be choked with algae and parasites. Both pose substantial health threats to swimmers and boaters, especially children and dogs. The lake is also habitat for the threatened Coho salmon.
The city council gave City Manager David Hawker the go-ahead to begin a detailed investigation into the creation of a special property taxing sewer district. The tax rate, according to Hawker, would work out to be something around 78 cents per thousand dollars of a property’s assessed valuation. Tax revenues would then be focused strictly on paying off a $4.7 million bond to build a sewer collection system for nearly all properties around the lake.
What makes the sewer tax district more attractive than other funding mechanisms, like levying a surcharge on Devils Lake area water bills, is that the district model makes Devils Lake residents eligible for state grants that could easily reduce the cost of the collection system by fifty percent. The burden to residents for that part of the project would be cut in half, to 31-cents per thousand dollars of assessed valuation, if they vote in favor of a tax district, said Hawker.
Hawker said although tax revenues would pay for the collection system and funnel all the wastewater to the city’s wastewater treatment plant, the pipes and a small pump that connects each dwelling to the collection system, along with a system development charge, would still have to be paid by individual property owners. Hawker said replacing a septic system versus hooking into the city sewer would be in the same financial ballpark except that collection pipes last a lot longer than septic tanks. Homes hooked to city sewer also retain or gain in market value compared to homes on septic tanks.
Hawker said he would get to work right away on the proposal but cautioned the council that it will be a long, slow process to carefully outline all the details and ensure that all affected property owners understand what’s at stake. It’s a process that could take several years to ferret out, he said.
Meanwhile, Devils Lake Water Improvement District Lake Manager Paul Robertson says the lake needs relief not only from leaky septic tanks but also from lawns and other landscaping that gives plant fertilizers quick downhill access to the lake which adds to the lake’s nutrient loading. The district continues to run it’s “Save Our Shoreline” campaign which subsidizes the cost of planting natural shoreline vegetation at the water’s edge. Such vegetation intercepts the fertilizer and other nutrients before they can get into the lake. Robertson says the district has also just filed an application to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to re-introduce Grass Carp into the lake as they have in the past. The Carp eat down the underwater vegetation that has been growing from all the years of nutrient loading.
Here’s a short video that describes the “Save Our Shoreline” program.