Friday, January 15, 2016

Capitol Lake Estuary Bill Introduced

Above: Washington State Representative Brian Blake’s legislative office overlooks Capitol Lake in downtown Olympia. Blake just introduced legislation, HB 2568, that calls for Capitol Lake to transition back to an estuary. The bill has been referred to the State Government Committee.

By Janine Gates

Washington State Representative Brian Blake, D-19, has introduced a bill, HB 2568, that calls for the transition, management, protection, preservation, and coordination of Capitol Lake to an estuarine environment.

The bill states that Capitol Lake and its transition to an estuary must be co-managed with the tribes with histories or traditions or customary uses relating to the Deschutes River watershed.

The bill has been referred to the House State Government Committee chaired by Representative Sam Hunt, D-22.

Blake represents Pacific and Wahkiakum counties, parts of Cowlitz, Lewis, and Grays Harbor and is chair of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. His Olympia office in the Legislative Building overlooks Capitol Lake.

In an interview Friday morning with Little Hollywood, Blake said he was excited about the legislation.

“This is a discussion I’ve been following for years and I’m frustrated by the lack of decision-making. Looking at the analyses and barriers to salmon recovery in Puget Sound, I see this as a real opportunity to restore some habitat. Now is the time to introduce a bill and discuss this,” said Blake.

Asked about those who think opening up the dam will create an excessive amount of silt to pour into Budd Inlet, Blake said that the lake is currently periodically drained.

“Just opening up the dam will go a long ways to allow a channel to form. I don’t think much silt will travel out of the lake at all. The majority of silt will remain in place, stabilize salt marshes and soils, and the healing process will begin,” said Blake.

Estuary advocates are thrilled with the legislation. Sue Patnude of the Deschutes Estuary Restoration Team, an Olympia-based nonprofit, has worked for several years to raise awareness of the benefits of restoring the lake to an estuary.

“HB 2568 is long overdue and a major milestone in our estuary restoration efforts. The attempt to maintain a river that flows beside the State Capitol as a lake is a failed project. Water quality is getting worse as circulation in Budd Inlet is diminished.  Capitol Lake, due to the mud snail infestation, has been a "do not use" place for too long. Salmon using these waters are on the decline. The community wants to enjoy these estuarine waters, as recreation, as a place for the web of life to flourish. This cannot happen as long as it is a dammed estuary. Removing the dam will make Washington State and Olympia a model place in our Puget Sound clean-up efforts. Thanks to Representative Blake and the others for introducing this bill,” said Patnude.

Representative Sam Hunt, D-22, who has an office next door to Blake's, showed more optimism Friday morning for the Seahawks than the legislation. Wearing full Seahawks regalia, Hunt was asked what the chances were for HB 2568 to get a hearing before the State Government Committee.

“We’ll see what kind of time we have. People are waiting to the last minute to drop their bills,” said Hunt, who also noted the bill’s uncertain fiscal impacts.

The Deschutes River in Thurston County runs 57 miles from its headwaters in Lewis County, past Rainier and through Tumwater, until it reaches Budd Inlet in South Puget Sound. Historically, the mouth of the lower Deschutes River flowed to the Puget Sound. The lake was created as a reflecting pool for the State Capitol Building and the estuary was dammed in 1951 at what is now 5th Avenue in downtown Olympia.

The 2016 Washington State Legislative Session started on Monday. Its website is and provides extensive, easy to use information on House and Senate membership, committee information, agendas, and specific legislation. To comment on a bill or ask questions, the Legislative Hotline is 1-800-562-6000. 

Above: Washington State Representative Brian Blake, D-19, points to Capitol Lake from his legislative office balcony in Olympia. Blake was a logger with the Weyerhaeuser Company for ten years before he became an environmental specialist for the state Department of Corrections.  A graduate of The Evergreen State College, Blake is a resident of Aberdeen and has served in the House since 2002.