Devils Lake Waster Improvement District Manager Paul Robertson went to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission Friday asking permission to help improve water quality and to help restore the lake’s transient Coho fish population.
The commission listened to Robertson and a few critics of his plan and in the end said that ODFW will work with the district to examine the manner in which lake water quality can be improved. The commission made no promises.
Robertson and District Director Chair Brian Green outlined their plan to bring down the toxic algae blooms and re-invigorate the diminished Coho salmon presence, a native fish that has been crowded out by an invasive species of bass.
Robertson said that the decay of the lake has diminished the amount of healthy, native plants in the water and that the algae-blooms are producing more frequent hazards to residents and tourists who swim and recreate in the lake. It’s also a danger to pets. Robertson told the commission they want to take a two pronged approach – get the hundreds of homes around the lake on regular Lincoln City sewer to shut down failing/failed septic tanks that add to the nutrient loading of the lake. And they also want to re-introduce STERILE grass carp (fish), at a slow but sustainable rate, to encourage the growth of native vegetation in the lake while not letting that vegetation get out of control due to the high nutrient levels in the lake’s muddy bottom. Robertson said that they want to find the right balance of sterile grass carp that will give the lake a sort of continuous hair cut underwater as surrounding homes and businesses gradually reduce their contribution to the problem.
Robertson said back in the 1980’s grass carp were introduced to Devils Lake, and again in the early 90’s. And both times they worked, but a little too well. The lake became a plantless, motionless bathtub full of nutrients which produced ideal growing conditions for toxic algae. It also became a wonderful playground for an invasive species of bass that devoured juvenile Coho salmon when they came swimming through headed for the sea. Today, Coho are pretty rare in Devil’s Lake.
But a couple of bass fishing oficianados testified that Devils Lake should be left alone to continue its normal eutrophication life cycle which favors bass.
Water District Chair Brian Green testified that there is a lot more at stake than just which species of fish survives, although he prefers native Coho to invasive bass. Green said Devils Lake is a destination attraction for both regional tourists as well as Lincoln City residents. Many special events are held every year, around and in Devils Lake. He said the city, the water district and the county are joining forces to get the hundreds of homes around the lake onto city sewer so that their failing/failed septic systems no longer leach huge amount of organics into its waters. He said it takes a combined approach to return Devils Lake to an environmental balance; proper shoreline revegetation to intercept organics headed for the lake and green carp that will eat back excessive growth of vegetation in the lake that have a massive buffet line of nutrients being released from the lake bottom into the water column.
ODFW Director Roy Elicker said what’s been proposed to the commission is a unique set of circumstances that deserves closer study and a lot of reflection across natural environmental processes and ODFW rules and guidelines for environmental intervention. He made no promises other than to commit ODFW staff to work closely with DLWID staff to further explore whether the grass carp option should be tried at the exclusion of other options. He did admit that most of those options are either highly controversial or expensive. No time line was adopted for the investigation. But it was acknowledged during the discussion that while the lake’s vegetation has been eaten back considerably by the current crop of 1993-introduced grass carp, they’re getting very old and soon the balance will tip back in favor of the vegetation. Robertson said they don’t know exactly when that tipping point will occur. That’s why they’d like to begin re-introducing the carp slowly, give the natural vegetation a chance to recover while continuously reducing the amount of septic emissions into the lake. As an additional side-benefit to the plan, Robertson said native Coho salmon should be come a more common sight in the waters of Devil’s Lake.
So we wait to see what DLWID and ODFW come up with. Here is statement issued later in the day from Devils Lake Water Improvement District Manager Paul Robertson:
“After hearing input from the District in favor of restocking sterile grass carp in Devils Lake and from two members of the public including bass fishing interests who oppose the grass carp, (ODFW) Chair Bobby Levy hearing no opposition from any of the other ODFW Commissioners, directed staff to continue working with DLWID on the District’s grass carp application to see if there is a solution. While no indication on how the Commission might ultimately rule on this matter, the District is very pleased to have the opportunity to continue to work on this important matter. Director Roy Elicker has appointed his Deputy Director Curt Melcher to take the lead on this. Deputy Director Melcher and ODFW fish biologist John Spangler met with DLWID earlier in the year after the District first submitted its application in August, and thus both are familiar with our application.
We thank the Commission for taking time during their Public Forum to hear about our application and how it relates to the Devils Lake Plan as a whole. Additionally we extend our gratitude to the many members of the public who took time out of their Friday to support the District and those that have sent letters encouraging the Commission to allow grass carp to be again stocked in Devils Lake in the future.”
–Paul Robertson, Lake Manager, Devil’s Lake Water Improvement District