Waterway cleanup: Columbia River diversion will flush polluted lake

In what is called the largest water cleanup undertaking of its kind in the United States, the Port of Vancouver, Wash., has begun a 30-month job of turning the 4.5 square miles of polluted Lake Vancouver once more into a sweet-water recreation center for fishing, boating, and swimming.

The mid-July start of the $20 million job on the 2,600-acre lake was a successful conclusion to 15 years of planning by the port and by other state and local groups.

The restoration project involves construction of a nonnavigable 4,300-foot channel between the lake and the Columbia River through which fresh river water will be "flushed" into the lake when the river is higher than the lake. A system of culverts and gates will prevent a reverse flow into the river at those times when the river is lower than the lake, according to Richard F. Gorini, Port of Vancouver planning and development director.

Such "flushing" will be a man-made substitute for the inrush of fresh river water into Lake Vancouver that took place on earlier years during spring floods, before control programs were initiated. Those flood control programs ended the natural flushing system that had kept the lake clear.

Ultimate pollution of the lake was accelerated by drainage into it of organic wastes from urbanization of Clark County, drainage largely from the city of Vancouver, which now will be halted.

The $20 million cost of the water sweetening is being funded by the US Environmental Protection Agency under the Federal Clean Water Act (50 percent), the State of Washington, and local sources, each 25 percent, including $2 million from the Port of Vancouver.

This project, according to Mr. Gorini, will produce $6 worth of recreational benefits for every dollar in federal money invested in the restoration.

The job of dredging an estimated 9 million cubic yards of muck from the bottom will be done by a Portland, Ore., firm with a 30-inch suction head specially designed and built for this lake job. Much of the dredged material will be used in the construction of two islands in the lake for the improvement of wildlife conditions. Some of the dredged material also will be disposed of on designated shoreline sites.

As part of the overall project, the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa) has given 44 acres of property to the Port of Vancouver through which the planned 4, 300-foot channel to the Columbia will be cut. The $400,000 property is located between the southwest lake shore and the river.

The Alcoa property grant is counted as a local contribution against which federal and state funds are matched for the overall lake cleanup costs.

Located about eight miles from the center of Vancouver, the cleaned lake will be "within easy driving distance of more than 1 million people" in Washington and Oregon, according to Mr. Gorini.

The project becomes even more outstanding when it is considered that federal funds for such undertakings probably won't be available in future US budgets, it was pointed out.

A $12,049,000 contract for the work was awarded to Riedel International, Inc. and is the largest single contract ever signed by the Port of Vancouver.

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