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CBH editorial: Working together for Moses Lake water

| February 26, 2020 11:58 PM

It’s almost March, and spring is waiting in the wings. Here in Moses Lake, spring means changing our clocks and getting out the lawn furniture, and it is also when our eyes turn toward the big body of water for which our town is named.

Our community and the surrounding region are very fortunate to have Moses Lake. It provides our residents with endless opportunities for fishing, boating, swimming and other outdoor pursuits. The lake draws people from all over the Northwest, people who spend money at our hotels, restaurants and stores. It’s a shining jewel in the middle of our town.

But the last couple of years have seen a little tarnish on that jewel in the form of cyanobacteria, better known as blue-green algae, which has cropped up in a few areas. The blue-green algae is fed by phosphorus, and when it dies, it produces a toxin. So far as we know, nobody has gotten sick from the lake water, but the appearance and smell present challenges. According to Harold Crose, a resource conservationist with the Grant County Conservation District, the problem may fluctuate from season to season, but it won’t go away on its own.

Fortunately, the problem has the attention of several organizations, and they are working together on solutions. The Moses Lake Watershed Council, a collaborative effort of the Washington State Department of Ecology, Grant County Conservation District, Grant County Health District, Moses Lake Irrigation and Rehabilitation District and the city of Moses Lake, is coordinating with other agencies and experts — including the Quincy, South and East Columbia Basin irrigation districts and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation — to tackle the problem.

It may not seem like much is being done, but a two-year grant has been obtained from Ecology to support gathering information on the origin and extent of the problem. Crose pointed out that the grant and study are a vital step. Without good, complete data, he said, we’re just “shooting in the dark.”

The way that the various interested parties are coming together to find solutions is amazing and encouraging. According to Crose, “For once we’ve got everybody corralled. We’re all moving the same direction.” This is good. Local politics, an important factor, shouldn’t distract from getting this important work done.

Crose said the Watershed Council is hoping to have a treatment available for the lake this season, but the big picture is much broader. Twenty years down the road, he said, we could be looking at a complete functioning watershed management plan to keep the problem from flaring up as it has in recent years. It’s ambitious, and it will probably cost plenty. Nonetheless, it’s doable if we have the political will.

“It’s a big job,” Crose said. “We’re looking at 6,500 acres. It’s probably one of the largest lake treatment projects in the United States. We have the technology and the way to do this. It’s pulling all the pieces together and figuring out how we pay for it. That’s the real gorilla in the room.”

It is indeed. Everybody wants to have a beautiful, clean lake. Clearing the algae will take time, and it won’t be simple or cheap. But it’s worth it.