Meeting takes aim at improving water quality in Moses Lake

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MOSES LAKE — Solutions. That’s what everyone who gathered on Dec. 19 to talk about the blue-green algae blooms that plagued the lake late last summer wanted to find.

“I thought it went well,” said Sen. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake, one of the attendees. “It opened up a communication about the topic.”

The meeting was called after blue-green algae blooms beginning in late August and continuing through September produced toxic levels of microcystins, a class of chemicals that are extremely harmful to the liver and can cause injury or death.

The Grant County Health District posted signs along both Moses Lake and then Potholes Reservoir warning the public about the dangerous levels of the toxin.

State Rep. Tom Dent, R-Moses Lake, said much of the meeting was spent talking about the previous work done both researching the lake’s condition and what can be done to address the problem of algae blooms.

“We need to look at what we’ve already done before we start moving,” Dent said.

Dent said he was a member of the TMDL Committee — TMDL stands for Total Maximum Daily Load, or the maximum amount of a particular pollutant a body of water can hold — that met more than a decade ago to discuss Moses Lake water quality.

The concern is the amount of phosphorus in Moses Lake, which feeds algae blooms in warm weather. According to Gene Welch, a retired professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Washington who has been involved with studies of Moses Lake since 1964, the high levels of phosphorus in the lake are the result of phosphorus-rich sediments easily churned by the wind and high levels of naturally occurring phosphorus in Rocky Ford Creek.

“We know Rocky Ford Creek is a big problem,” Welch said. “It’s got a high concentration and the phosphorus is soluble. It’s a hot supply, and the fish hatcheries are not a huge fraction of that. It’s apparently natural.”

There are some things that could address the levels of phosphorus in Rocky Ford Creek, Welch said, such as adding aluminum sulfate to the water, which would bind some of the phosphorus and allow it to settle out, or diluting it with water from the Columbia River, as much of the lake already is diluted through Crab Creek.

“That was planned in 1977,” Welch said. “That would be costly, a pretty big pipe.”

Welch said aluminum sulfate is used in water treatment facilities to remove particulates, and is also used in 300 lakes across the country to control phosphorus.

The Dec. 19 meeting was closed to the public. And while another meeting has not been scheduled, Dent expects the next meeting on Moses Lake to take place sometime in March or April. Dent, Warnick and Welch would like to see the process eventually include the public.

“Hopefully this will develop and get more people on board,” Welch said.

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached via email at cfeatherstone@columbiabasinherald.com.

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