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Oswego Lakes health, future are a bit murky

Lake Oswego residents should demand that public business be conducted in public

We all want clean water.

To the homeowners rimming Oswego Lake, it's natural that their houses circle a healthy body of water.

And other residents - non-lake residents, if you will - also have an interest in a clean and healthy ecosystem.

Unfortunately, none of them - us - have that.

Just as surely as water rolls downhill, Oswego Lake is steadily filling with silt, dirt, metals, chemicals and all types of debris associated with runoff. When you look at the geography of the city, there's nowhere else for all of this to go.

Naturally occurring compounds - compounds like phosphorus - join the flow of water into the lake. Two of the results of all this is that the lake isn't as deep as it used to be and the phosphorus buildup leads to algae generation.

Algae is no stranger to Oregon's waterways. Upper Klamath Lake - the state's largest lake - is filled with the stuff. But algae tends to cramp the livability of an area. It chokes off some fish, it turns the water a pea-soup green, it clogs boat engines and wreaks havoc with water skiers, it smells on warm days and it takes away any sense of a pristine feeling a homeowner might expect when looking out from a house next to the lake.

Over the years, the Lake Corp has been charged with trying to keep the lake clean. For about 50 years, it poured hundreds of thousands of pounds of copper sulfate into the lake to try to curb the algae growth. In the last five years, it has switched to aluminum sulfate.

That copper sulfate has resulted in a huge and potentially hazardous leftover. The copper has made its way to the lake bottom, but make no mistake, it's still there, lurking like a hidden, unknown monster of the not-so-deep.

Anchored to the lake bottom is the heart of the city's sewer system - known as the interceptor. It's starting to fail and it needs to be replaced. The failures - in the former of leaking sewage - have caught the attention of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, which insists on a fix and is threatening to fine the city.

Unfortunately, this is placing the city of Lake Oswego in an untenable position of being caught between a rock and a soft, gooey place in the mud of Oswego Lake.

If the interceptor is replaced along traditional lines like it's existing - albeit leaky predecessor - the bottom of the lake and its copper will be disturbed. If this happens, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Clean Water Act will come into play.

To avoid that, the city is left with two other options: A first-of-its kind floating gravity pipeline that would costs upwards of $65 million to build or an out-of the-lake pipeline that has been estimated at costing $97 million.

No matter which route the city goes on the interceptor project, the price tag is going to be spendy.

And even with the efforts to avoid the problems associated with the EPA, DEQ and Clean Water Act, there remains one obvious problem: There's copper sitting in the bottom of the lake. How the city navigates copper to replace its sewer line is public business, not business that should be conducted in private with the Lake Corp. Lake Oswego citizens have a right to know how their tax dollars are being spent and why.