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The Lakes Commission Newsletter

This newsletter is a creation of the Lake Pend Oreille, Pend Oreille River, Priest Lake and Priest River Commission, commonly referred to as the "Lakes Commission."  The goal of this newsletter is to bring to the public non-biased, fact based information on current topics occurring on our waterways.  To learn more about the Lakes Commission please visit our website at www.lakes-commission.com.

Priest Lake is Dropping!

Priest Lake water levels are controlled by Outlet Dam which is managed by the Idaho Department of Water Resources (IDWR). IDWR sent out a press release today that states that they will be unlikely to maintain the summer pool on Priest Lake.  This means that the lake level will drop throughout the summer unless significant precipitation falls in the Basin.  

If you keep your boat on the water in Priest Lake you will need to follow water levels throughout the summer to make sure you can get your boat off the water before it is grounded. To view the current lake level at Priest Lake please click here.

The Lakes Commission will be hosting Keith Franklin from IDWR at an informational meeting on July 24th at 1:00 PM at Hill's Resort. Please come learn more about what to expect this summer on Priest. 

Downsides of a Sunny Summer

Toxic blue-green algae bloom

Summertime in this region brings lots of fun on the water, but there are some unpleasant health concerns that may come along with the sun.  So far there haven’t been reports of blue-green algae blooms or swimmer’s itch on Pend Oreille or Priest, but it is always good to know what might occur. 

Blue-green algae blooms:
You may have noticed a number of health advisories in northern Idaho this summer due to blue-green algae blooms.  Fernan, Avondale and Hayden Lakes have all had toxic blooms during this hot, dry summer.  No health advisories have been released for Pend Oreille or Priest at this time, but it remains a possibility.

Blue-green algae is another name for cyanobacteria.  Cyanobacteria are closely related to other bacteria, but they can photosynthesize like plants.  They are a common part of the phytoplankton population in most lakes and ponds.  Cyanobacteria can reproduce quickly, creating a “bloom”, in times when temperatures are warm, sunlight is abundant, and nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen are plentiful.  Some cyanobacteria create toxins that are released when they die.  These toxins can pose a health risk to people and animals that drink or inhale the waters during a bloom. 

Blue-green algae blooms can cause clear water to become discolored to red, brown, green or blue and a green scum layer may form on the surface of the water.  Blue-green algae are difficult to pick up because they are small organisms that break apart.  If you can pick up strands or it feels slimy or cottony then this is a harmless regular green algae.  A large number of dead fish or other animals in the water or sudden sickness or death of a pet that drank from surface water can be indicative of a toxic cyanobacteria bloom.  If you see something suspect please call the Idaho Department of Environmental  Quality at 208-769-1422 or the Panhandle Health District at 208-415-5220.

These blooms can last for a long time, but they often disperse with a rain event or cold snap.  Although these blooms are natural events, curbing the addition of nutrients to the water may lessen the chances of a bloom.  Ways to limit nutrient additions to the water include: minimizing fertilizer application to lawns and gardens; retaining or creating a vegetative buffer on the stream bank; maintaining septic systems; and keeping livestock and pet waste out of the waterway. 

Swimmer’s Itch
Swimmer’s Itch, cercarial dermatitis, is a skin rash that forms as an allergic reaction to a parasite that is can be present in in lakes or ponds.  These parasites enter human bodies mistakenly when in search of an avian host.  Humans are not suitable hosts so the parasite dies immediately, but they cause an allergic reaction in the skin.  The rash is typically raised, itchy papules that last under a week.  The rash is uncomfortable, but not serious. 

For success the swimmer’s itch parasite, schistosomes, must have both an avian host and a snail host during its life cycle.  This pairing of hosts is becoming more likely on Pend Oreille due to the invasive plant species, flowering rush.  Flowering rush is the perfect host for snails and waterfowl love to eat it.  In quiet bays this can make for the optimal environment for swimmer’s itch to take off.

Save the Priest Lake Thorofare!

In 1965 Upper Priest Lake became protected from development and since then it has been a memorable attraction for thousands of visitors to the Priest Lake area.  The only way to reach Upper Priest Lake is through non-motorized trails or boat access via the Priest Lake Thorofare. The Thorofare is a two and a half mile long river connecting Upper Priest Lake to the lower Priest Lake. 

The Priest Lake Thorofare is kept open by a breakwater that is nearly a hundred years old. The breakwater, despite several attempts to delay deterioration, has many breaches which are allowing sediment to fill the channel.  As a result the channel has been changing, meandering and becoming progressively more shallow making safe passage in a motorized boat difficult. 

The Bonner County Breakwater Committee is searching for a remedy that will continue to allow access for all watercraft to the Thorofare.  The Committee would like to restore safe access into the Thorofare by deepening the channel and eventually repair or replacement of the breakwater. Please visit www.savethethorofare.com or www.facebook.com/priestlakethorofare to learn more about the project and donate to the cause.

Floating Wetlands: Taking the Green from the Water

The technology of Floating Treatment Wetlands (FTWs) has been around for years, but water managers and landowners are just now beginning to recognize them as an efficient and aesthetically appealing tool to improve water quality and create wildlife habitat. Floating wetlands are designed to mimic a natural wetland’s ecologic function as water purifiers and wildlife habitat.

FTWs float on top of the water and are built using a foundation mat made up of a matrix of extruded recycled plastic bottles. Wetland plants are then planted in the matrix and grow hydroponically.  The roots of these wetland plants and the fibrous material of the island itself provide surface area for microbes to grow and multiply. Microbes are like nature’s garbage disposals, eating up organic impurities in the water.  The plants also absorb and utilize nutrients in the water, decreasing the potential algae growth.  FTWs also have the ability to trap suspended sediments and algae and improve water clarity overall.  A small 250 square foot island is claimed to mimic an acre of natural wetland surface area.

Great uses include ponds with abundant algae and limited cover for fish and waterfowl, slow moving back water sloughs, and along docks and shorelines.  They take up very little space, are light, easy to move, and can easily be anchored anywhere. They have the ability to shade out unwanted aquatic vegetation, while at the same time providing fish habitat, improving water clarity by trapping sediment and absorbing excess nutrients.

A  BioHaven floating island was recently installed in the viewing pond at the Waterlife Discovery Center in June 2015.  If you would like to see the floating treatment wetland, please visit the Waterlife Discovery Center at the Idaho Fish & Game Fish Hatchery on Lakeshore Drive in Sagle.

Floating Island at Waterlife Discovery Center

Floating Wetlands along a dock