Liberty Lake, increasingly, is for the birds.
In the past few years, seagulls have decided the lake is the perfect place to spend the night.
“There’s a dock marooned in the lake, and that hummer is just covered with seagulls,” says Dennis Ashlock, area resident and longtime lake purity advocate. “I don’t know where they’re coming from.”
Sometimes as many as 6,000 gulls nest on the water. And with thousands of seagulls comes, in the words of state water expert Bill Funk, some “very heavy loading.”
Funk, director of the State Water Research Center at WSU, says the waste generated by three of the birds is equivalent to that produced by one human. Picture up to 2,000 people, floating on the lake at night, not using restrooms, and you’ve got the idea.
Funk says he’s not sure why the birds picked Liberty Lake. He thinks they may have made their homes at the now-closed Greenacres and Mica landfills, and just never left the area.
“Apparently, the birds are pretty doggone good at finding food,” Funk says. He calls them “opportunistic scavengers.”
They’ll eat anything - their own eggs, vegetation left over from recent field plowings, bugs and garbage.
The birds, by themselves, are really no big cause for worry over water quality. But this year’s heavy rain has raised concerns somewhat.
The increased drainage from the area brings dirt, silt, fertilizer, and other contaminants with it.
“An inch of rainfall, if the streets are dirty, equals one day’s worth of a community’s sewage,” Funk says.
Funk fears that bird droppings, combined with heavy runoff, may spur increased algae growth during the summer months.
There’s practically nothing that can be done to chase the gulls away, Funk says. “I’m not proposing we go out there and shoot them.”
So the thing to do is to keep the runoff from being contaminated.
Lee Mellish, manager of the Liberty Lake Sewer District, says developers in the watershed area are required to keep construction work from damaging the environment. The sewer district provides them with hay bales or silt fences at no cost. Steps like those strain potential pollutants before the water flows into the lake, he says.
Mellish says sometimes the district also uses water bars, ditching that diverts water away from the lake and into grassy areas.
Area homeowners should use fertilizer sparingly, since it adds nutrients to the water supply, Mellish says. Residents should also pick up not just the usual litter, but leaves and other natural debris that end up on the beach.
As for the birds, Funk wishes the gulls would nest on the marsh area at night. They could actually do some good there, promoting plant life instead of algae growth.
Meantime, Ashlock and others will have to share the lake with a few thousand feathered friends.
Ashlock agrees the number of birds has increased significantly the past few years. And while he’s all for water purity, he says he has gotten used to all the din the gulls make. “I kind of like it,” he says.