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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Washington to kill fish in popular lake

The state of Washington will move forward with a plan to dump a fish-killing chemical into Park Lake today, despite protests of some residents living on the lake.

Last month, the Washington Pollution Control Hearings Board temporarily halted the use of rotenone in the lake until it could further consider the issue, said Jani Gilbert, spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Ecology. Late last week, the board lifted its stay and gave the green light for the treatments to proceed.

Park Lake, as well as about 160 other lakes in Washington, is treated periodically with the chemical rotenone, said Bob Gibbons, statewide inland freshwater fish program manager for the Department of Fish and Wildlife. The treatments are needed to prevent exotic fish species from crowding out sport fish and native species, he said.

Park Lake, located about 100 miles west of Spokane, is one of the most popular trout fisheries in the state, Gibbons added. In good fishing years, upwards of 4,000 anglers crowd the lake on opening day – roughly half come from the state’s West Side, according to Department of Fish and Wildlife reports.

Spike Arlt, a retired Central Washington University track coach who built a home on Park Lake in the 1960s, claims the past use of the chemical on the lake has not only killed fish but also wiped out frogs and other creatures. Arlt is also concerned by new research linking rotenone to Parkinson’s disease in rats.

“This is dangerous, toxic stuff,” said Arlt, who has led the protest against rotenone use.

Arlt said he was notified in June to stop drawing water from the lake, as well as his 17-foot-deep groundwater well while the chemical was in the lake. Arlt refused to agree, and the agency subsequently challenged the validity of his claim on surface and groundwater rights. Federal laws prohibit the use of rotenone near drinking water sources.

Arlt said the state could avoid using the chemical simply by planting larger fish. Each year the state dumps thousands of inch-long rainbow and brown trout fry into the lake. Bigger fish would be better able to fend off hungry predator species, Arlt said.

Treating Park Lake with rotenone costs about $180,000 and lasts about a decade. Planting larger fish would cost ten times as much, Gibbons said. The use of the chemical is also timed to avoid killing native frog tadpoles, he added. Bullfrogs, an exotic species, are targeted by the treatments.

The state has stopped its routine rotenone use in lakes west of the Cascades. Gibbons said the change came because most lakes on the West Side are crowded with homes, making it nearly impossible to use rotenone in compliance with federal laws. Gibbons stressed that the chemical is applied in strict accordance with EPA regulations.

Arlt thinks there’s a different reason why the chemical remains in use in Eastern Washington, but not the West Side. “People won’t let them use it there,” Arlt said. “They dump thousands of pounds of toxic chemicals here every few years to maintain that cheap version of a fishery here.”

When nearby Blue Lake was treated with rotenone earlier this year, Arlt collected two sacks of dead fish to have them analyzed to be used as evidence in his case against the state. The dead fish, however, were confiscated by sheriff’s deputies and state agents, Arlt said.

Department of Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Madonna Luers said the chemical must be reapplied periodically because some exotic species survive the treatments and repopulate the lake. “You’d have to use it in mega quantities and we don’t,” she said.

Rotenone is a naturally occurring compound found in certain tropical plants. It has long been used by South American tribes to stun fish. The compound breaks down within several weeks of its application.