Ty Swenson
At left, Dick Thurnau with Friends of Hicklin Lake speaks to a crowd in celebrating a cleanup plan for the polluted lake in White Center. On the right, TAF Deputy Director Sherry Williams cuts Hicklin Lake-branded cake to cap off the night.

Hicklin Lake’s cleanup plan celebrated

In a story of how perseverance (and a positive government response) pays off, members of the White Center community and King County’s Water and Land Resources Division gathered at the TAF Bethaday Learning Space on April 24 to celebrate a plan to install water-cleansing floating islands in heavily-polluted Hicklin Lake at Lakewood Park this summer.

The floating island idea was hatched, investigated and presented to King County by Friends of Hicklin Lake, headed up by the lake’s biggest champion in Dick Thurnau. King County officials admitted on the night that without Thurnau’s insistence on trying the islands out (As KC Program Manager Bong Santo Domingo put it, “He called us every day”), the program may have never come to fruition.

Combine Thurnau’s insistence with the extra work of KC Senior Limnologist Sally Bartley Abella in obtaining a $50,000 grant from the Washington Department of Ecology for the project, and a plan is now officially in place to install four islands that will be used to naturally capture excess nutrients from the lake through the roots of vegetation growing upon them.

In what Thurnau called a “win-win situation,” students attending STEM-UP classes at the TAF learning center will work with King County scientists to investigate the effectiveness of the islands, including a study the students will head up in monitoring how bird populations fluctuate before and after the islands are installed.

Abella said her department likely would have never considered the relatively new floating island technology without Friends of Hicklin Lake, but at this point her department is looking forward to using Hicklin as a pilot program: If the islands do a good job in cleaning up this lake, the technology (which, once installed, require minimal maintenance – a good thing with today’s tight budgets) will likely be used in other beleaguered bodies of water throughout the county.

Laying out a timeline, Abella said bids are going out to companies this week and a decision will be made on a vendor in the next three weeks. From there, they will take delivery on the islands in July and have them operational by the end of that month. She said the islands will be planted with a variety of flora, from native roses to dogwood bushes and cattails: “Designed to be good looking.”

To keep the islands from becoming hang out spots for resident ducks, geese and gulls (and with that could come an unwanted uptick in nutrients from excrement), the islands will be fitted with nearly-invisible wire fencing to keep waterfowl from being able to climb up. Abella said the islands should be too small for them to fly in for a landing.

The islands will start working their magic immediately, but scientists said it will likely take two years for them to operate at full capacity, pulling polluting nutrients and metals from the lake. Abella said her team will take measurements of pollution levels before the islands are installed, and on a monthly basis for two years (funding allows for that time period) after they are in. The results will be available in a study released towards the end of 2014, she said.

While the floating islands do their job in conjunction with Mother Nature, King County is working with the Southwest Suburban Sewer District to reduce the level of pollutants making their way into Hicklin Lake in the first place. Abella said a significant source of pollutants are illicit connections of sewer lines to the stormwater drainage system that funnels into Hicklin. Those connections, which were likely made back in the 1950s, result in sewage making its way into the lake, raising fecal coliform levels. She said two illegal connections have been discovered and corrected so far, and they will be investigating to find more.

The two-pronged attack on Hicklin’s pollution just might bring the lake back to a clean state, one Thurnau, now in his 80s, remembers as the place where White Center once gathered and swam.

Lakewood Park and Hicklin Lake are located at 11050 10th Ave. S.W. An illustration from King County showing what the islands will look like and where they are located can be downloaded from the top of the story.

To read more on the floating island technology, please see the Herald’s prior coverage, found here.

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