By Molly Priddy, 7-01-12
||Caption: A moter boat skims the surface of Echo Lake as it navigates the center of the waterway. - File photo by Lido Vizzutti/Flathead Beacon
The Flathead County Commission held a standing-room-only public meeting about potential emergency no-wake zones on Echo Lake, as the water continues to rise.
As of June 27, the water had not yet reached the road on Causeway Lane, according to Flathead County Public Works Director Dave Prunty, but there have already been erosions along the road caused by waves.
There’s been a loss of asphalt and the road has been undercut in some places, Prunty said.
“It’s obviously not beneficial to the road, having the water this high,” Prunty said.
Last summer, Causeway Lane was under water for four months. Echo Lake is prone to flooding since it is groundwater fed and is affected by the snowmelt in Noisy Basin. According to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, monitors on the lake’s level showed the water rising about 1.5 inches per day.
As of last week, the water was still several inches below the road, Prunty said, but the waves were not doing it any favors. The waves are created both by wind and boats, he said, and a no-wake zone would help eliminate one of those elements.
“We’re recommending to keep the road open, but that could change really quickly,” he said.
Commissioner Pam Holmquist told the sizeable crowd gathered in the commissioners’ chambers that she is in daily contact with the health department, and that until the high water becomes a health issue, the county will continue to monitor the situation.
Jim Satterfield, the Region 1 supervisor for FWP, told the commission that state law does not support the FWP Commission approving an emergency lake closure for property damage, but it could do so for threats to human safety.
The law reads: “An emergency rule may be adopted only in circumstances that truly and clearly constitute an existing imminent peril to the public, safety, or welfare that cannot be averted or remedied by any other administrative act.”
The lake was given a temporary emergency no-wake restriction last summer due to high water, during which all watercraft were limited to a controlled no-wake speed.
Those gathered for the meeting were disappointed that they did not get a chance to speak, but the county commissioners said they had received a considerable amount of letters and phone calls about Echo Lake.
Some residents would like FWP to impose no-wake zones in certain areas but not the whole lake. One man said he had a petition signed by 45 families wanting that scenario.
Other residents said they thought it would be for the good of the whole lake to disallow wake on the whole body of water. Susan Hutz, who has lived on Echo Lake for 18 years on state lease land, said she has two boats and would love to be out on the lake, but she believes the wake it would create will only make things worse.
She also said she’s astounded at “what’s not being done” about the situation, and said she finds it irresponsible that the health department has to wait until there’s some sort of contamination in the water to recommend no-wake restrictions.
Commissioner Dale Lauman said the county commission would keep the situation under advisement and encouraged Echo Lake residents to stay in contact with the commissioners. He also said to call the county road department if they notice water on Causeway Lane.
[End of article]