Floating Wetland

Hayden Lake Project

As watersheds go, Hayden Lake’s is particularly problematic, due to steepness, highly erodible soils, and the fact that Hayden Lake has no river outlet: what goes into Hayden Lake stays in Hayden Lake. While the center of the lake is deep, cold, and relatively healthy, the bays are increasingly cloud, off-color, off-smelling, and choked with weeds – so much so that area residents are now noticing changes year by year that should have taken decades to develop. At the very least, shoreline property values could hang in the balance.

Phase I of the Hayden Lake project started in 2007 with filming of the documentary, “The Hayden Lake Project: One Watershed At A Time,” which debuted in December of 2009. The film’s purpose is to spread the word about Hayden Lake’s health threats, their underlying causes, what’s been done to correct the problem, and the lake’s prognosis. More than 600 copies of the DVD have been distributed, there have been several public screenings to standing-room-only crowds of 100 to 200+ people, and the program has been adopted into area high school science classes, awarding class credits for students who volunteer within the project. Support for the documentary came from Kootenai County, private donations, and the Coeur d’Alene Tribe.

The purpose of Phase II of the project is to get as many as possible of the highly sensitive, highly erodible parts of Hayden Lake’s watershed into conservation easement. We have already had some early successes in this area, partly due to our willingness to pool our resources with other associations and agencies, and share the credit for what we accomplish. Our biggest success in this area resulted from collaboration with Idaho Fish and Game.

In Phase III, recognizing that excessive phosphorous (nutrient) loading into the lake from the watershed is one of the largest problems, we are searching for new technologies to help remove phosphorous that has already entered the lake. While herbicides can help temporarily reduce aquatic weeds, and chemical treatments with alum can temporarily carry suspended phosphorus to the lake bottom, we prefer mitigations that are not only effective, efficient, long-lasting and affordable, but that won’t, at some point down the road, need to be mitigated themselves. Our first pilot project is testing the effectiveness of the Floating Treatment Wetland (FTW). Thanks to new materials that have become available since this technology was first introduced, these “floating islands” attract and hold enormous populations of beneficial bacteria in colonies called biofilms that can grab and convert unwanted nutrients into a source of food for the fishery. At the same time, the wetland plants that are placed into planting holes in the islands extend their roots into the water and consume more of those unwanted nutrients. The roots also create a safe haven for fish, which like to hang out under the island and feed on the products of the new food chain created by the biofilm. Published studies show that if maintained properly, a 200 square foot FTW can match the benefits of a full acre of mature, healthy wetland on the ground level, and with the added benefits of being in the water itself, where direct benefits are also extended to the fishery. Thanks to a grant from the Cadeau Foundation as well as generous donations from the community, we have acquired a 210 square foot FTW, which we launched on September 1, 2011, in a 1-acre settling pond within Hayden Lake’s Skinner Bay drainage. The planting and launch were done by enthusiastic volunteers who are becoming great watershed stewards themselves.

Phase IV is focused on stabilizing Hayden Lake’s fragile watershed. We hope to start our first study in McLeans Bay, and for that we have applied for a grant from the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality. If we get the necessary funding, the project will bring together all the shoreline residents in the bay en bloc, assess each parcel for any defects that contribute to storm water runoff and erosion (the main source of phosphorus loading into the lake), obtain a professional plan to correct those defects (from a landscape architect certified in erosion and stormwater control), get the necessary permits, and then work together to execute the repairs. Most of the labor will be done by volunteers, under the watchful eye of our certified professional. It’s not only a great way to get a lot of good work done for relatively little money, it’s also the best way to learn about watershed stewardship! Keep your fingers crossed we get the grant!

Link to Spoaksman Review article

Link to Kootenai Environmental Alliance EA webpage

Floating Wetland Hayden Lake Project