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Water level in Deer Lake: Too much of a good thing

Even in a water wonderland there can be too much water.

One of the wettest late winter and springs in island history has not only caused several large mudslides on the South End, but has swelled lake levels to the possible destructive point, officials said.

A prime example is Deer Lake near Clinton. Its single outfall has been unable to keep up with the extra volume caused by heavy rains during much of March and April, sending water higher onshore and submerging docks.

Curt Gordon, a Clinton businessman and Port of South Whidbey commissioner, grew up next to Deer Lake and said he can’t remember when the water level was so high for so long.

Gordon said the typical pattern for the lake is that it rises a bit after a heavy rain, then drains off its excess when the weather clears.

“This year there’s been no recovery, and the water level has gone up and up and up,” he said this past week. “My dad built our dock in 1950, and I’ve never seen the water level go over the top. It’s almost there now.”

Several private docks haven’t been as fortunate. A new $20,000 dock at the Deer Lake Haven Community Club was partially submerged. Other residents reported this past week that sections of their docks had gone underwater, or had broken free.

With a recent reduction in rainfall, however, the water level has gradually lowered in recent days, but another deluge could send it up again.

Kevin Rasmussen, director of ministries at Lakeside Bible Camp, said the camp’s three docks have survived the rising water levels, but the end of one was pushed about an inch below the surface during the wettest period.

“The water’s definitely been pretty high,” Rasmussen said. “Neighbors say it’s been the highest in years. But our buildings are pretty far back from the shore.”

Terri Arnold, director for the South Whidbey Parks & Recreation District, which manages Deer and Lone lakes, said residents have expressed concern that speeding boats on Deer Lake may be compounding the problem by creating waves that wash over docks and high onto the beach.

She said the department has posted signs at the public launch area alerting boaters to the high water level and urging them to reduce their speed.

“We’re just asking them to be respectful and use extreme caution,” Arnold said.

Fortunately for Deer Lake residents, the fishing season should take care of the boat-wake problem, officials say.

As of the first day of fishing season, boaters are require to travel no more than 5 miles per hour at all hours of the day, in every part of the lake. The lake-wide speed limit went into effect Saturday, April 24, and remains in effect until Monday, May 16.

Arnold and Steve Marks, assistant Island County public works director, said the county may extend the speed limit beyond May 16 if the lake’s water level remains high.

Marks said an extension of the law would require a variance.

“We’ll have to deal with that at that time,” he said.

Except for fishing season, power boats are permitted to travel up to 45 mph on Deer and Lone lakes during weekday afternoons and between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, so long as they remain 200 feet from shore.

Gordon, a powerboat enthusiast who teaches waterskiing classes for the parks district, said Deer Lake has a four-powerboat limit at any one time.

He said during pleasant weather, he’s seen four powerboats on the water and five or six more waiting their turn at the launch area.

“If the sun comes out 23 days past the start of fishing season, they’re there,” he said.

Gordon and county officials say part of Deer Lake’s problem during periods of heavy rain and water accumulation is that it has only one outfall, which has sustained damage in the past and which tends to become submerged, then partially clogged with debris.

The outflow empties into a stream that passes under Anderson and Humphrey roads and out to Saratoga Passage in the area of Columbia Beach.

Marks said county crews are regularly checking the culverts that carry water from Deer Lake “just to make sure the water is flowing at a good rate.”

He said the last time the culvert was checked, “there was a huge volume of water flowing out.”

Island County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson, after speaking with Gordon, also urged that boaters be reminded of the necessity to slow down during periods of high water.

“It’s always good to be cooperative and mindful of your neighbors,” she said. “It’s always good to obey the rules.”

As for the weather, she added: “I can’t wait for it to stop raining. It’s caused havoc all over, and this is just one more thing.”

Gordon said the long-term solution for Deer Lake may be for property owners to get together and put in a new outfall.

Meanwhile, he said, nature itself should level the playing pool.

“It’ll drain back out,” he said. “For the short term, we’ll be fine.”

 

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