Lake Chelan is unique, and, locals say, doesn’t fit with shoreline requirements
Friday, March 8, 2013
CHELAN — Like more than 200 cities and counties across Washington, the city of Chelan is updating its Shoreline Master Plan this year.
But unlike most of the other jurisdictions, Chelan is dealing with a unique body of water that, some say, doesn’t have the same environmental needs as Lake Washington, the Entiat River, or Puget Sound.
That’s what city officials plan to tell state lawmakers in two weeks, when they’re scheduled to testify before the Senate Natural Resources and Parks Committee.
City administrator Paul Schmidt said Chelan has been working on a new plan for three years, and at last Thursday’s public hearing on a draft, those commenting made it clear there’s still work to be done.
“The bulk of the issue that still remains is that, the state and certain federal agencies treat Lake Chelan like so many other bodies of water. But Lake Chelan is very unique,” he said. “It’s real clear — pristine. It doesn’t have very many nutrients for sustaining a lot of fisheries. And it’s very deep — one of the deepest in the world,” he said.
Schmidt pointed to a 1994 Environmental Protection Agency study of the lake, identifying Lake Chelan as “ultra-oligotraphic,” which means it’s very low in nutrients, which supports very little plant life. There are only a handful of others like it in the United States, he said.
The Shoreline Management Act requires the state Department of Ecology to manage the lake to promote habitat for fish, but that habitat doesn’t exist naturally in the lake, he said.
For example, he said, while most bodies of water would benefit from creating wetlands along the shoreline, that may actually be detrimental to Lake Chelan’s water quality because they bring nutrients that are not naturally-occurring in the lake.
Adding to the natural lack of plantlife is the fact that the level of Lake Chelan is regulated by a dam. It fluctuates by 21 feet during the year, leaving its summertime shoreline high and dry for the rest of the year, said Mayor Bob Goedde. “In this lake, some of those docks don’t have water under them for eight months of the year.”
A public hearing on the city’s draft plan last week drew about 20 residents, with six or seven commenting on the draft plan, Goedde said while some development, like docks, may have little impact on the lake’s ecology, other activities — like seepage from septic systems — could have a much greater impact on Lake Chelan than it would on other lakes or streams. “This one size fits all is a little aggravating,” Goedde said, adding, “If we let algae in the lake, it won’t be blue very long. We may need to go beyond the state regulations in order to keep it that way.”
Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, R-Wenatchee, said she heard so many concerns about the shoreline master plan that she set up a hearing with a Senate committee so other lawmakers can understand their dilemma.
She said she plans to meet with the new director of the state Department of Ecology prior to the committee hearing, on March 19.
Ecology spokesman Kurt Hart said 60 shoreline master plans across the state have been updated since 2001, when the process got going after a legislative requirement that all cities and counties either update or create one. Lawmakers first passed the Shoreline Management Act in 1971 to ensure a coordinated and planned growth along shorelines in a manner that protects the environment. The public adopted it by referendum in 1972. But many of the plans developed then hadn’t been updated in 30 years, until the state Legislature required it.
Chelan County and its cities received a $721,000 appropriation to update plans in the 2007 to 2009 budget, and has until Dec. 1 to complete those plans, he said.
Hart said that the plans are designed to be locally tailored to the needs of local communities, and the shorelines they are working to protect.
“Each one looks different. There is not a simple cookie-cutter plan,” he said.
But some local officials say certain things are expected that may not make sense for Lake Chelan, like mitigating for construction of docks.
“There’s no question that Lake Chelan is unique,” said Mike Kaputa, director of the Chelan County Natural Resources Department. “We just want to make sure the rules and development around the lake are appropriate for the water body. The information for other areas may not apply. In some cases it does apply. We’re just trying to get our head around how do we do these things for Lake Chelan, because it is a unique water body.”
Kaputa said when it comes to building docks — which is most of the activity that will occur on Lake Chelan — the county has been working to develop an “in lieu” program, so owners can pay for projects that don’t occur right on their shoreline — such as installing large woody debris — but somewhere else on that lake. The biggest challenges in that effort have been describing why anyone has to mitigate for dock construction at all, and if they do, coming up with a reasonable fee, he said.
Schmidt added, “The corps (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) is still trying to impose large woody debris for dock mitigation when it actually ends up being a hazard for users of the lake. These are clearly out of the water for most of the year, but that’s falling on deaf ears,” he said.
“There’s just a number of things that should be done differently,” Schmidt added. “Nobody here is suggesting we don’t regulate our shores. The lake is vital to the Chelan community. No one is more interested in protecting it than our own residents.”
K.C. Mehaffey: 997-2512
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