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

Fish cleaning stations indefinitely closed at Lake Roosevelt following septic backups

All fish cleaning stations in the Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area are indefinitely closed.  (Courtesy of the Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area)

All fish cleaning stations in the Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area are indefinitely closed.

While repairing the cleaning stations and their septic systems – which allow anglers to dispose of fish parts while on land – staff discovered that fish oil and remains had coated the sand in the drain fields so thoroughly that water could no longer filter through the sand and had clogged the septic system, according to an agency release. The six fish cleaning stations grind up fish parts and deposit them into a septic system.

“Basically our fish cleaning stations are garbage disposals on steroids,” said Denise Bausch, a spokeswoman for the recreation area.

After assessing the blocked drain fields, Bausch said it was determined it would cost too much money to replace all six stations currently in the recreation area. To keep the existing fish cleaning station operational, the entire septic system would need to be redesigned, including electrical engineering, more powerful motor and installing a new drain field. It’s estimated it would cost about $50,000 per station to make them operable, she said. This is the third drain field at Fort Spokane destroyed by the fish oils in the past 30 years and there is no available space for a fourth, according to the recreation area.

“When they were installed in the mid-80s that’s how they were designed,” she said. “The problem is they now realize there are these issues. They have the ability to separate oils but will cost a lot of money.”

Instead the recreation area is considering installing cleaning stations at the end of docks. These systems, which cost about $1,000, are similar to a table with a hand pump pulling water from the lake. Fish remains would then go into the lake, Bausch said. The recreation area plans to test this system and gather public comments before making a decision.

“Our lake is very nutrient poor because it’s a man made lake and the water runs through it very quickly,” she said. “The small amount of fish remains that will end up in the lake are actually more beneficial than harmful.”

In the meantime that leaves anglers with no good option when it comes to cleaning the day’s catch. Per federal regulations it’s illegal to dispose of fish remains on land or waters within 200 feet of boat docks or swimming beaches, or within developed areas. Anglers on boats may clean fish there and dispose of remains into the lake. Do not dispose of fish remains in park dumpsters. During sturgeon season, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife regulations require anglers to bring retained whole sturgeon to shore prior to cleaning to allow checks for compliance with the slot size limit rule.

“We would prefer they take their fish home to clean them,” Bausch said.

As for campers?

“If someone is camping and they don’t have any other option if they have access to a boat they can take the remains back out and dump them,” Bausch said. “If they do not have access to a boat, clean at the campsite and then throw the remains as far as possible into the lake.”