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

Neighbors dispute plan to use herbicides on lake’s vegetation

Badger Lake property owners Carl and Dana Strode, shown boating Wednesday, oppose plans of other property owners who want to use herbicides to control aquatic vegetation along the shoreline. (Dan Pelle)

A plan to apply herbicides in the water has stirred up controversy at Badger Lake.

One of Washington’s top trout fishing destinations, the Spokane County lake also is home to a few dozen people and a summer retreat to a few hundred more.

Waterfowl flock to the waters south of Cheney. Amphibians hunker in the lily pads and swallows nest in the basalt cliffs that rise vertically from much of the shoreline.

The water is considered clean. Cutthroat trout taste sweet. Many property owners, including Bruce Schwan, draw their drinking water from the lake.

But as Badger has aged and absorbed nutrients from landscaped yards, the growth of native aquatic vegetation has become more robust.

“For some of us with shallow shorelines, the native vegetation has made it unenjoyable to swim and water ski from our lot,” said Schwan, a Kennewick resident who’s owned a place at Badger since 1995. “By August, the growth wraps around fishing lines as well as on the boat motor when you come into the dock.”

Badger lake property owners have a tradition of using some sort of rake to manually remove nuisance aquatic vegetation.

“I’ve done that,” Schwan said. “But it’s not practical anymore off my lot. There’s just a tremendous amount of vegetation and it’s especially hard to deal with at the end of my dock where the water’s 10 feet deep.”

Schwan and several other property owners organized a group last winter to set a Badger Lake milestone by applying for a state aquatic herbicide permit and hiring a licensed applicator.

As required by state law, notices were sent out to residents within a quarter mile of the application areas in January.

Still, some residents say they were surprised in March to learn the Department of Ecology’s public comment period was over and the five-year permit was approved for Inland Water Pest Control and Consulting to treat about 5 shoreline acres on the 224-acre lake.

“We’re outraged,” said Gordon Martinen, a Western Washington resident who’s had Badger Lake property for 40 years. “We’re among three parties that have filed an appeal with DOE, but we’re not getting anywhere.”

“They’re planning to do this in August, when the ospreys are fishing, people are swimming and fishing and their dogs are drinking out of the lake,” said Gerald Watson, who inherited his lake place from his parents.

Dana and Carl Strode, whose property adjoins the Schwans’, are particularly upset. The couple said they also oppose the state’s use of rotenone every 15 years or so to rid the lake of non-sport fish so it can be a pasture for trout.

“It’s a lake, not a swimming pool,” Dana Strode wrote to Schwan this spring, explaining their opposition to the herbicide application after seven property owners came to a meeting to discuss it.

“There is bound to be all sorts of natural but slightly creepy things in it, like plants, snakes, otters, fish, etc.”

Carl Strode said his biggest concern is his huge lawn high above the lake, which requires six hours to mow.

“They’re telling us not to irrigate for days after the application,” he said. “I could lose a lawn that has a 50-year legacy.”

Thomas Wimpy, the applicator hired for the treatment, has refused to answer questions. He also declined to explain the treatment to The Spokesman-Review.

“I don’t think something needs to be aired in the newspaper that has nothing to do with you as a person or the newspaper as a whole,” Wimpy said when contacted by phone.

He said the treatment has yet to be scheduled, and then hung up.

However, state and county officials say the permitted chemicals, including 2,4-D and Diquat Dibromide, have been extensively tested by the Environmental Protection Agency and approved by the state Department of Ecology.

Herbicide treatments have been allowed for years on lakes such as Liberty, Newman and Loon, said Jonathan Jennings, the DOE administrator who processed the Badger Lake permit as well as more than 100 similar permits across the state.

The herbicides applied by label instructions should pose no significant hazards to fish, wildlife or humans, he said, although swimming in the area would be discouraged for a day after application.

“Mechanical and chemical treatments both have their pros and cons,” said Jacob McCann, Spokane County water resources coordinator.

The county encourages property owners to get together, look at alternatives and form a plan.

Removing too much aquatic vegetation can be detrimental to fish and the critters they eat, he said.

“And there can be water quality issues, since vegetation holds the bottom sediments that otherwise would be stirred up by wave action from boats, leading to turbidity, algae blooms and other problems.”

While resilient in many ways, lakes are also complex ecosystems that warrant careful treatment, McCann said.