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Originally published Monday, July 27, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Tucannon lakes may be lost if repairs aren't made

Some of the Tucannon lakes, a popular fishing area near Dayton, Columbia County, could be lost to recreational use because the state needs to repair their aging dams and dredge decades of accumulated sediment.

Tri-City Herald

Some of the Tucannon lakes, a popular fishing area near Dayton, Columbia County, could be lost to recreational use because the state needs to repair their aging dams and dredge decades of accumulated sediment.

Officials with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife hope to get $700,000 approved in the 2010-13 state budget to pay for design of work to improve Rainbow and Spring lakes.

But if repairs can't be made, the southeast Washington lakes could be drained.

Glenn Gerth, a dams engineer for the department, said the state Department of Ecology wants the work done for safety reasons and to improve water quality in the Tucannon River for fish.

The eight lakes, which are fed from springs and the Tucannon River, were created in the 1950s to provide people a place to catch stocked fish so the Tucannon River could be better managed for endangered species such as bull trout.

Gerth said dredging would deepen the lakes, which would reduce water temperature and make it more difficult for vegetation to grow from the lake bottoms. Both help fish habitat, he said.

Some of the lakes are only 3 to 5 feet deep and should be 8 feet deep.

And some trees that have grown in the dams are big enough to leave a big hole in the dam if they fell.

Gerth said Spring Lake is a "significant hazard" because dam failure there would flood a public access and camping area.

Jim MacArthur, whose family manages the Last Resort in the Tucannon River drainage, said people are concerned about losing the lakes.

Glen Mendel, a fish-management biologist for the Department of Fish and Wildlife, said he'd like to have a citizen-advisory committee to "help engage the public on how to get the funding."

Only six of the eight lakes are targeted for remediation work, and costs run from $50,000 to nearly $1 million for each lake.

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The Ecology Department has the final authority about maintaining or closing the lakes.

"They could order us to drain and close them," Mendel said. He said there's a possibility some of the dams would have to be breached.

MacArthur said many of the people who come to the Tucannon Lakes area to fish and camp are from the Tri-Cities.

"It's a popular spot. We have to let our elected officials know how much we value the area's recreation and also the positive economic impact on the entire surrounding area these fishing opportunities provide," he said in a note on the Last Resort's Web site.

Mendel said he hasn't set a date for a public hearing but hopes to get it done before the end of summer.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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