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MLIRD considers high school students for lake testing

by Charles H. Featherstone
Staff Writer | February 12, 2020 11:36 PM

MOSES LAKE — The Moses Lake Irrigation and Rehabilitation District is looking for some help as it seeks to manage the lake’s ongoing blue-green algae problem.

And that help could include asking local high school students to help monitor the quality of the lake water.

“What if the MLIRD took students around the lake to take samples?” said MLIRD General Manager Chris Overland during a regular meeting of the MLIRD board Tuesday evening.

Board members are considering how best the district, which oversees the management of Moses Lake, can cooperate with the Moses Lake Watershed Council, which is working to find solutions to the blue-green algae blooms that have emerged over the last few summers. The algae produces a dangerous and potentially lethal toxin that has prompted the Grant County Health District to issue warnings about the quality of lake water, dampening recreation and tourism on the lake.

“Things have changed since the Watershed Council was formed,” said board member Richard Teals. “The health district is doing a great deal of work establishing what’s in that water.”

Teals suggested the MLIRD could connect the health district with high school students who could volunteer to conduct water tests as part of chemistry or biology classes.

“The consensus of the group is to involve the high school in some way, it gives them an opportunity,” he said.

Board member Kaj Selmann said if the volunteer pool were expanded, it would be important to ensure that everyone testing lake water was using the same methods and the same protocols and that all of the data was kept in standard format.

“That would make the data that we collect helpful,” Selmann said.

Board members also talked about an upcoming test of alum treatments on a 1,500-acre segment of the Rocky Ford arm of Moses Lake, where few district ratepayers live. Alum is used to draw out phosphorus suspended in the water, and phosphorus is an important nutrient for blue-green algae (which are actually a kind of bacteria).

Overland said the level of the lake needs to rise another four feet or so, and the water temperature needs to reach about 42 degrees Fahrenheit, before any major alum tests can be done. A few smaller tests need to be done first, Overland said, but at some point, the MLIRD and the Watershed Council will have to find some way to pay for things.

“We need to pay for it. Somebody needs to pay for it,” said board President Bill Bailey.

Board members also unanimously approved a resolution redesignating the board chair as “president” and the vice chairman as “vice president.” According to Brian Iller, the district’s attorney, the move brings the district’s own language about officers into line with state law.

Finally, Iller responded to a question about a recent ruling from Superior Court Judge David Estudillo dismissing most of a lengthy lawsuit against the district by former board member Mick Hansen, who attended Tuesday’s meeting.

Estudillo had ruled that the board’s election rules violated state law governing elections for smaller irrigation districts like the MLIRD but were more fair in how they distributed ballots than the state law.

Iller said despite Estudillo’s finding, he hasn’t actually ordered the MLIRD to change its election rules.

“The board will do what Judge Estudillo tells the board to do,” Iller said. “He never entered an order or judgment. When that happens, we will appeal. Or comply.”

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