The preferred alternative for habitat restoration at Wapato Lake would draw a wider variety of wildlife and a more diverse plant community than either of the other two main alternatives.
That's what Refuge Biologist Curt Mykut of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service told more than 50 people who gathered in the Gaston Junior/Senior High School gym for an open house on the project Monday night.
According to Mykut, the first alternative, "no action," is not realistic but serves as a baseline to compare the other alternatives. Under the current alternative, the lake would fill in the winter and drain in the summer, when farmers would be able to use it for crops.
Alternative two would reconnect the lake to the Tualatin River by breaching levees at the north end. There would be no special effort to control the water level, which would naturally maintain a depth of three to five feet throughout the year.
That depth would limit plant growth and wildlife diversity, Mykut said.
Alternative three, the preferred alternative, would involve more active management, using pumps to control water levels, keeping a depth of roughly zero to two feet over most of the lake, rising to three feet in places.
This alternative makes flooding less likely.
It also would spark a much wider diversity of plant growth, drawing large amounts of waterfowl and providing the best nesting habitat of the three options.
In order to carry out this alternative, however, the pumps currently being used at the lake's north end would have to be replaced.
Also, FWS would need to reach some sort of agreement with the remaining two landowners who have not yet sold their property.
FWS Project Leader Larry Klimek said the landowners appear cooperative and might agree to a land swap or flowing easements if not a sale.
After Mykut's opening presentation, audience members brought their questions to him one-on-one. Judy Phillips of Gaston worried about mosquitoes and Mykut said the Environmental Assessment shows the preferred alternative, with its relatively shallow waters, could spark a growth in the mosquito population.
"We're close enough they could fly up and get us," said Phillips, whose house overlooks the lake.
Mykut said Washington County Vector Control would monitor both Wapato Lake and the Tualatin River Wildlife Refuge, as it already does.
He noted that a devastating mosquito invasion on the southern Oregon coast — after re-creation of a salt-marsh habitat — was finally addressed with a biological control method.
Garry White, who co-owns The Screamin' Chicken diner on Gaston's main thoroughfare with Jeannette Noble, asked Klimek about what kind of boardwalk or path might eventually circle the lake and whether it would be wide enough for rescue personnel if necessary. He also suggested installing islands in the middle of the lake to provide nesting habitat that would be out of reach of coyotes or other predators.
Those issues will be discussed in a future open house on recreation, said Klimek, who nevertheless noted that Alternative Three would probably draw more swans and ducks to the lake — as well as more tourists, who might then provide more business for White's restaurant.
This past winter, FWS recorded about 60,000 Pintail ducks who visited the lake in just one day, Mykut said. That was partly because of the shallow lake levels and partly because the cooperative farming activities that usually take place in the summer didn't work out last year, so there were lots of seeds lying about to attract the ducks.
"We'll have farming again this year," Klimek said.