This is the collection of student essays. Each essay explores a different part of the Deschutes River and Estuary, from historical background to direct effects of the 5th Avenue Dam on the local ecosystem. The author’s name and introductory paragraph are included to give you a sense of what each essay is about.
Capitol Lake has been a community gathering place for more than 60 years. In the Lake’s infancy, it was a place where community members could swim and boat. Now, the lake is a eutrophic mess of algae and invasive species, dangerous enough to the health of citizens that swimming is completely banned. It is clear that something must be done for the preservation of community involvement in Olympia’s slice of the Deschutes. The 5th Avenue Dam should be removed and the lake left to return to its natural state as an estuary, providing citizens with a place to be surrounded with nature. Restoring the estuary will provide Olympia with economic benefits and will provide a positive change to recreational activities.
“Understanding Our History to Better Understand the Present” by McKenzie Meyer
Olympia, Washington is situated alongside the southern end of the Budd Inlet. Like many cities in western Washington, Olympia developed alongside a body of water which then provided commerce to the early settlers. When the Washington State capitol building was designed and constructed in 1927 architects sought to take advantage of this waterside location and proposed the construction of a lake next to the capitol building. By the 1940s, the idea of a reflecting lake had gained the support of the community and in 1951 the dam that created Capitol Lake was completed. Capitol Lake provided a community gathering place and recreational area where visitors could view the capitol building reflected off the lake’s clear surface. However, over 50 years after the initial construction of Capitol Lake, we are left with an algae infested, sediment filled, lake. While there may have been a reasonable rationale for creating Capitol Lake back then, this rationale has become obsolete. Instead of living with the decisions of the human-centered society of the 1940s, it is time to develop an ethical partnership between the human and the non-human residents of Olympia. The first step towards this partnership is to remove the 5th avenue dam (Keck 8)(Deschutes Watershed Guide).
“Deschutes Estuary Restoration: A Case Study of the Elwha River Complex” by Madeleine Elias
For almost 70 years, Capitol Lake in Olympia, WA has been sitting under the nose of our state government, quietly engaged in the processes of eutrophication and reduced habitability. The creation of this lake by means of the 1951 construction of the 5th Avenue Dam destroyed a once thriving estuary and partially cut off the Deschutes river from access to the Sound. A similar story can be observed just 80 miles north along the Elwha River of the Olympic National Forest near Port Angeles. For over 100 years, two dams cut off the river’s flow and made it impossible for the Elwha’s native salmon species to return to their ancestral home in order to complete their life cycle. This disruption of the salmon run resulted in a near complete decimation of the species populations in the region. The dams also had a negative impact on the estuary at the mouth of the Elwha, damaging a crucial system that young salmon depend on for development.
The reflecting pond found adjacent to the Washington State Capital building in Olympia, known as Capitol Lake is beloved by the residents of the city. The lake is an artificial body of water created by the damming of the Deschutes River. The area previously served as an estuary, one of the most ecologically beneficial biomes found on Earth. Prior to settlement, native tribes would gather at the estuary to collect shellfish and fish for salmon, further amplifying the ways in which humans and nature coexisted in a state of reciprocation. This is no longer the case, however, as people are currently banned from entering the water due to safety concerns. This is due to the quality of the water being beyond tolerable, which can be attributed to a multitude of harsh elements. This incongruity between the current Capitol Lake and the ideal water conditions can be resolved through the removal of the 5th Avenue Dam. The Dam was constructed without knowledge of the future challenges the lake would face regarding pollution, and without regard for what was in the best interest of the lake.
The European Settlement of the Pacific Northwest has affected many indigenous people in more ways than one. If you were a Native American in this society and had most of your cultural traditions taken away from you in a blink of an eye, how would you feel? The construction of the 5th Avenue dam on the Deschutes river impacted more than just the ecosystem; it impacted the overall cultural traditions and the natural resources of the Squaxin Island Tribe.
Estuaries are some of the most productive ecosystems on the planet and are often host to many different organisms that might not exist elsewhere. The construction of the 5th Avenue Dam destroyed the Deschutes estuary and surrounding ecosystem, and numerous species of plants, aquatic animals and birds can no longer make it home. By ruining this estuary, the city government of Olympia has eradicated the habitat of ecologically important plants and animals (Einstein, 14). In order to revive the populations of various native species such as Coho, Chinook, and Chum salmon, Cutthroat trout, Pacific blue mussels, freshwater clams, and Pacific blue herons, the dam must be removed and the estuary restored.