Dear DLWID Board Member:
I would like to provide input on a important issue on this month’s agenda. In the interest of making the best use of the board’s time, I am submitting you written comments prior to the meeting. I intend to attend this month’s meeting. Please take these written comments as my contribution to the Public Comment agenda item for the April Board meeting.
Whole Lake Circulation
In this month’s Manager Report the Lake Manager has asked the Board to provide direction as to how they would like to proceed or not proceed in this matter. The Board should modify the direction previously provided by the resolution made in June 2009. I would recommend that the Board provide the following guidance in response to that request.
The Board should defer any further actions toward pursuing SolarBees. The district should continue to seek more information regarding the nature, extent and effects of cyanobacteria and their impact on the health and recreational use of Devils Lake. The district should continue to investigate methods for controlling all aspects of water quality, assessing their effectiveness and appropriateness for application on Devils Lake.
This action should result in the removal of the section entitled “Whole Lake Circulation”, pages 31-35 from the Devils Lake Draft Plan as well as the removal of the agenda item for Whole Lake Circulation from the monthly Board meeting agendas.
Justification for this Recommendation
There are several reasoned justifications for the Board to act favorably on this recommendation. These include:
1. Lack of Public Support
Over the past couple of years, the community has engaged in an extensive, sometimes passionate discussion related to the placement of SolarBees on Devils Lake. Put simply, there is overwhelming consensus against this project. Local residents don’t want SolarBees on Devils Lake.
2. Questions Related to Effectiveness of SolarBees in Controlling FHAB’s
The jury is still out as to how effective SolarBees are in controlling Freshwater Hazardous Algal Blooms (FHAB’s). A student of the practical field experience of SolarBee placement will observe mixed results dependent on a variety of environmental factors. See “We can’t stop lake turning green” from the March 29, 2010 Wanganui Chronicle.
Two studies recently released by SolarBee Inc. both indicate that SolarBees are effective; interestingly, both studies claim that “the mechanism(s) through which Solar Powered Circulators suppressed FHABs remains unknown”. I have made both studies available for your review. (follow the links in this document)
In March 2009, Joe Eilers of SolarBee, Inc released An Assessment of Circulation Technology Applied to Blue Lake, Oregon. The report was the conclusion of a two-year trial of three Solarbees placed on Blue Lake. Purchase of the three units was contingent on the success of the trial as accessed by Solarbee, Inc. The report concluded that the units improved water quality and based on the report Metro and the local residents purchased the three Solarbees installed for the trial.
A new report entitled Harmful Algae, has been published which suggested that current studies demonstrate that solar powered circulation of the top-most layer in a thermally stratified lake strongly suppressed freshwater harmful algal blooms (FHAB’s) even in nutrient-rich waters. The report states that the mechanism(s) through which solar powered circulation suppressed FHABs remains unknown, the evidence indicated that the magnitude of suppression increased over time. The study was authored by H. Kenneth Hudnell, Head Scientist for Solarbee and reviewed by Joseph Eilers also of Solarbee, Christopher Jones, Bo Labisi, Vic Lucero, Dennis R. Hill; are each employees of the three SolarBee installations reviewed in the report.
There is a third study which does not reach the same conclusions that were reached by SolarBee, Inc employees. In October 2009, Metro released the 2009 Blue Lake Water Quality Summary Report researched and authored by Whitney Temple. The report provided a review of the two-year trial of three Solarbees placed on Blue Lake and an assessment of the third year that followed the purchase of the units. The report summarized that “based on the available algae biovolume data, there has been no significant change in total algal biovolume or the proportion of it comprised by cyanobacterial species after the installation of the SolarBees.”
Elaine Stewart, Senior Natural Resources Scientist for Metro shared the report with me and elaborated that the report is “neither peer reviewed nor conclusive”. She continued that she thought, “it points out the complexities of lake systems and the remedies we implement.” “We likely will not be able to determine the impact of the placement of SolarBees on this lake for another five to ten years” she said.
3. There is no conclusive proof that SolarBees control macrophytes
The specific claim by SolarBee, Inc is that “over 30 independent lake owners have reported that several species of aquatic weeds, including Eurasian watermilfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum), curly leaf pond weed (Potamogeton crispus), sago pondweed (Potamogeton pectinatus), coontail (Ceratophyllum demersum), and American elodea (Elodea canadensis), have diminished in their lakes even as water clarity significantly improved”. They have publish a White Paper titled: SolarBee Experience in Inhibiting Submersed Macrophyte Growth. A careful review of this white paper reveals no link between these observations and the series of scientific studies listed in the appendix other than they appear in the same report.
SolarBee Inc, claims to be installed in over 300 lakes which leaves 90% who have either not reported on the impact on macrophytes, reported no change or reported an increase in mactophyte populations. Indeed, one of the locations provided as an example of favorable results in the white paper was Tahoe Key Marina which doesn’t match the story reported by the Bonanza News Service a year after the installation of the SolarBees “The growth seemed to be little more intense this year,” said Richard Horton, co-owner of the Tahoe Keys Marina. “I can’t see any (change), unhappily.”
Closer to home the Blue Lake report provided by Metro indicated that “Eurasian watermilfoil (M. spicatum), the most frequently encountered plant, was found at
73% of sites in September 2009, compared with 71% in September 2007 and 44% in July 2008”. The study does however; provide the caution that short-term observations should not be regarded as solid trends. Indicating “differences among years may be due to annual variation in plant communities as a result of natural variations in water chemistry and physical conditions, differences among surveyors, or from using sampling points rather than an exhaustive survey.”
4. DLWID barely afford the proposed SolarBee project
The 2009 budget contained a $1,067,380 capital investment placing 20 SolarBees on the lake. There were no funds identified for associated operating costs, routine maintenance or repairs due to damage or wear and tear from the harsh environment. The budget committee expressed concerns about this oversight, since the District will exhaust its reserve with the initial purchase. There are no funds designated for ongoing expenditures associated with the project.
Currently the District has an application in with Oregon Department of Environmental Quality for a twenty year, $662,000 loan for Whole Lake Circulation. Under the original plan, the loan was to be provided under the terms of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, with a 50% principal forgiveness clause and an interest rate of zero percent. While these funds are technically still available to be used toward this project, the ARRA terms are no longer available. The current interest rate for the DEQ Clean Water State Revolving Fund Loan Program (CWSRF) is 2.77% plus a fee amount equal to 0.5% of the unpaid balance, which is collected annually.
The 2009 budget called for funding the SolarBee project with $307,500 transferred from the Improvement Fund leaving a balance of $13,369. The project balance of $759,880 was slated to come from other funds including potential grants from the EPA West Coast Estuaries Initiative and NOAA Fisheries, which were not authorized. This leaves the CWSRF as the only viable funding mechanism for the project, with the $97,880 funding shortfall most likely coming from an attempt to repurpose the $100,000 requested from CWSRF for the septic tank revitalization program. Between principal, interest and fees the average annual repayment obligation is $51,554 on the debt, which peaks in the first full year at $53,072.
The District receives $300,205 annually from its tax base. The district incurs $158,139 in payroll expense, material and services expenditures and the cost of carrying net working capital from the previous fiscal year. The new debt service is $53,072 in the first full year. The net expenditures of special programs including the RARE intern, general fund expenditures, and the 319-grant project total some $41,469 in expenditures. This brings total estimated District expenditures to $299,734 creating a $471 annual windfall. It is possible that the $13,369 balance remaining in the Improvement Fund after the purchase of the SolarBees could fund other initiatives, the district will have invested all of their resources into one technique, which may not be the best strategy.
The Board should defer any further actions toward placing SolarBees on Devils Lake. There is a complete lack of public support for the project. There are questions about the effectiveness of SolarBees in controlling algae. There are no scientific studies to substantiate SolarBees claim that they control macrophytes. Finally, the cost is too high for the resources that are available to the District. Once the District invests in SolarBees, all other options will be off the table.