BELLINGHAM - Tests of water quality in Lake Padden show cause for concern but not for alarm, says Betsy Gross, director of People for Lake Padden.
"It's neither dirty nor clean," Gross said. "It's somewhere in the middle. It's on the edge of being a problem lake."
According to the testing conducted by the volunteer organization that Gross helped organize, Lake Padden has problems that seem similar to those afflicting much larger Lake Whatcom, although Padden's woes are less severe. Unlike Lake Whatcom, Padden has not been a drinking water source for decades. But it is the centerpiece of a popular city park with a bathing beach that is mobbed on warm summer days. Anglers line its banks during the first few days of sport fishing season every spring.
The good news is that the quality of Padden's water appears to be stable, Gross said.
Some key findings from People for Lake Padden's water study:
About 41 percent of Padden's watershed has been developed, and the runoff from streets, lawns and roofs puts phosphorus in the lake. Water tests found that the phosphorus levels in Padden exceed recommended state standards at times in the fall but are usually within acceptable limits.
Phosphorus causes algae blooms, and dead algae feeds bacteria that deprive the lake of oxygen. As a result, the deepest parts of Lake Padden have no life-supporting oxygen during late summer and early fall, and that means no fish can live in those depths.
The eastern part of the lake next to the ballfield and playground has high levels of potentially dangerous fecal coliform bacteria, especially in the fall. The problem appears to come from the creek that drains the dog off-leash area. The study recommends that the city post signs warning people to stay out of the water there, and take additional steps to encourage dog owners to clean up after pets.
People for Lake Padden also recommends that the city conduct a public information campaign for those who live in the Lake Padden watershed, advising them on ways to reduce the flow of phosphorus from their property.
The group also asks for highest possible levels of runoff control for any new development in the lake watershed.
Gross said she was encouraged to see how many people have stepped up to get involved in her group's effort to study and protect the lake.
"It's a beloved park," Gross said.