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Frequently Asked Questions


What is the Capitol Lake - Deschutes Estuary Project site?

The Capitol Lake - Deschutes Estuary includes the 260-acre Capitol Lake Basin, located on the Washington State Capitol Campus, in Olympia, Washington. With an adjacent trail system and nearby parks that provide passive recreational opportunities, this waterbody is an important resource and valued amenity in the south Puget Sound area.

When was the existing lake created?

The lake was created in 1951 when the state constructed an earthen dam and concrete spillway at 5th Avenue in Olympia. In this same year, the state built Deschutes Parkway, a nearly 2-mile long road that parallels the western shore of the lake.

Who is responsible for the existing lake?

The Washington State Department of Enterprise Services (Enterprise Services) is responsible for the stewardship, preservation, operation, and maintenance of the resource. Enterprise Services maintains Capitol Lake as part of the Capitol Campus under a long-term lease agreement with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

What is the Capitol Lake - Deschutes Estuary Long-Term Management Project?

A long-term plan is needed for managing this important resource. Developing a long-term management plan involves three phases.

  • Phase 1: In 2016, representatives from local and tribal governments, coordinating state agencies, and the community joined Enterprise Services to identify common goals for long-term management of the resource. Phase 1 was completed in 2016, satisfying the objectives in a 2015 legislative proviso.
  • (We are here) Phase 2: Develop a project-specific Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that evaluates potential alternatives and identifies a preferred alternative for long-term management. Phase 2 began in mid-2018 and is expected to take about three years.
  • Phase 3: Funding, design, permitting and construction of the selected long-term management alternative.

Why is an environmental impact statement being prepared for the Capitol Lake - Deschutes Estuary Long-Term Management Project?

An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is required when the lead agency determines that a proposal or project could result in potentially significant adverse environmental impacts. Enterprise Services, as lead agency under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA), has determined that potential short- and long-term actions could result in adverse environmental impacts, and is therefore preparing an EIS. The Capitol Lake - Deschutes Estuary Long-Term Management Project EIS will identify a preferred alternative for long-term management.

What is an Environmental Impact Statement?

An EIS is a decision-making tool guided by SEPA that provides impartial information to decision makers and the public about probable adverse environmental impacts, reasonable alternatives, and mitigation measures that would avoid or minimize adverse impacts or enhance environmental quality.

More information about the EIS process is available on the Washington State Department of Ecology's website.

Why is long-term management of the Capitol Lake - Deschutes Estuary important?

Water quality standard violations

Capitol Lake is currently violating water quality standards because of high levels of phosphorus, which cause algae blooms that deplete dissolved oxygen in Capitol Lake and the adjacent Budd Inlet, using up oxygen essential for fish and other aquatic life.

Sediment management issues

Every year more than 35,000 cubic yards of sediment from the Deschutes River is deposited within the lake basin, resulting in increasingly shallow conditions. Today, the lake is about 21 percent smaller and it holds roughly 60 percent less water than it did in 1951.

Presence of invasive species

Fish and wildlife habitat are impacted due to the presence of several invasive and nuisance species including the New Zealand mudsnail, purple loosestrife, Eurasian watermilfoil, nutria, and Canada geese. These species out compete and negatively impact native populations.

Restricted active community use

Over the years, high bacterial levels and the presence of invasive species have resulted in impacts to the recreational use of Capitol Lake. The presence of New Zealand mudsnails resulted in official closure to all active uses in 2009. Active use of the waterbody continues to be restricted today.

What are the objectives for the long-term management of the Capitol Lake - Deschutes Estuary?

In 2016, Enterprise Services, in collaboration with stakeholders, identified the following objectives for long-term management of Capitol Lake - Deschutes Estuary:

  • Improve water quality
  • Manage sediment accumulation and future deposition
  • Enhance ecological functions
  • Restore active community use

Enterprise Services will use the EIS process to evaluate and identify a preferred environmentally and economically sustainable long-term management alternative that satisfies these objectives.

What alternatives have been preliminarily identified for long-term management?

At a minimum, four primary long-term management alternatives will be evaluated in the EIS: a Managed Lake, a Restored Estuary, a Hybrid, and a No Action Alternative.

  • A Managed Lake Alternative maintains the reflecting pool and is similar to existing conditions with additional strategies to manage sediment accumulation and future deposition.
  • An Estuary Alternative would restore full tidal hydrology throughout the entire basin. An opening in the current Fifth Avenue Dam would be constructed sufficient in size to allow tidal exchange.
  • A Hybrid Alternative would include elements of both—a smaller reflecting pool would be developed near Heritage Park and a barrier would be constructed to support a restored tidal estuary west of the barrier.
  • A No Action Alternative would represent the likely future for the Capitol Lake - Deschutes Estuary if the project is not implemented. Evaluating a no action alternative is required under SEPA, providing an alternative against which the effects of the action alternatives can be evaluated and compared.

Each alternative would include strategies and actions to satisfy the long-term management objectives.

Several sub-options or variations of these primary alternatives have also been proposed and will be screened for their ability to meet project objectives and their feasibility. Learn more on the project website.

How are stakeholders engaging in the long-term management project?

Phase 1 work occurred in collaboration with the community, governmental entities, and coordinating state agencies, many of which also participated in efforts that occurred prior to 2016, when Phase 1 began.

In 2018 as part of Phase 2, Enterprise Services re-convened three advisory work groups comprised of governmental partners and agencies that have jurisdiction or regulatory authority within the project area. These include:

  • An Executive Work Group (to provide policy-level feedback and represent the interests of their constituents)
  • A Technical Work Group (to assist in review of technical materials)
  • A Funding and Governance Work Group (to consider a future shared funding and governance model)

For more information on the work groups, see Capitol Lake-Deschutes Estuary Advisory Groups.

In 2019 and 2020, a Community Sounding Board will provide community members representing a diverse range of interests an opportunity to engage in focused discussions, exchange ideas and provide community perspectives on key topics related to development of the EIS.

How do I learn more about or get involved in the EIS process?

Learn more about the process and how to get involved on the project website.

Join the project email list to receive project updates.