Mayor eyes Lake Lucille in Wasilla as angler haven

REVIVAL: Rupright pitches plan to revitalize fishing in vegetation-choked lake.

February 3, 2009 

WASILLA -- Even if Wasilla is no longer the starting point for either the Iron Dog snowmachine race or the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, Mayor Verne Rupright said it could at least be the next lake fishing mecca.

Rupright, at a Wasilla Chamber of Commerce last week, pitched a plan to rehabilitate Lake Lucille and encourage the state Department of Fish and Game to begin stocking the lake with larger fish again.

"In Wasilla, we don't have streams, but we do have still waters. Why don't we make this the still-water fishing capital of the state?" he said.

Rupright cited a 1990 study completed by now-defunct Gilfilian Engineering and Environmental Testing as one way to restore the lake. The plan, he said, would be to dredge the lake and allow it to drain near its western outfall.

Draining the lake would both flush out the water and allow ice to freeze off the vegetation growing in the lake bottom, Rupright explained.

With the addition of aeration, oxygen levels in the water should be restored to amounts healthy for fish, he said.

"In a couple of seasons, we'll have that lake revived," Rupright told Chamber members.

Rupright said he hopes to tap into federal economic stimulus money set aside for water reclamation projects to pay for the work.

Fixing the lake might not be that easy, however.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has for several years called Lake Lucille an impaired water body because vegetation chokes the shallow pool and its decomposition robs the lake of oxygen.

Consultants and engineers have been studying for decades how to make the lake better fish habitat.

For even longer, people have been tinkering with the lake in an attempt to make it better in one way or another.

According to an account published as part of a 1993 study by Anchorage engineering firm Hattenburg, Dilley and Linnell, rotenone, a poison, was added to the water in 1955 and 1963 to kill stickleback that had invaded the lake.

The treatments killed an estimated 25 million stickleback, along with 80,000 suckers, 450 rainbow trout and 235 silver salmon. A fish weir was added in the late 1960s to stabilize the lake levels and keep the stickleback population in check.

Measures have been taken to improve the lake's water quality as well. Homes around the lake are now on city sewer, instead of individual septic systems that leach waste into the lake.

Runoff from the busy Parks Highway was routed into the lake in 1986, but has since been rerouted into a pond at Wasilla's nearby Iditapark.

But the lake is still choked by vegetation and doesn't have enough dissolved oxygen.

It's not clear Rupright's idea would fix the problem, said Laura Eldred, an environmental program specialist with the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

She said there are other possible options. Lake Hood, Anchorage's shallow-water seaplane base, uses an in-water mower, a $170,000 piece of equipment, to trim grasses.

"We've changed the lake so much over the decades. I think before jumping into anything they'd really want to study it more clearly," she said.

Even with the low oxygen levels, fish thrive in the nutrient-rich lake, state Fish and Game biologist Dave Rutz said.

If the fish can survive in the water for three to five years, they reach a good size, he said. Aeration, or adding air bubbles, would help the survival rate, he said.

Lake Lucille is regularly stocked with trout and salmon, although a hatchery problem has curtailed stocking of large fish since 2006, Rutz said.

But fingerling coho put in the lake in 2008 should make for nice fishing there this summer, provided they survive the winter, he said.

Rutz said he supports efforts to make the lake better fishing grounds.

"We're going to be putting fish into those lakes regardless. I'd certainly like to see the fish live longer," he said.

Dredging the lake would likely require permission from the state and maybe the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Mike Bethe, Mat-Su area manager with the state Department of Natural Resources' habitat division, said he plans to meet with Rupright later this week to discuss lake plans.

He will look at the program with an eye toward making sure any action taken on the lake doesn't harm fish habitat in Lucille Creek, a fish-spawning stream that runs from the lake.

"There might not be any issues. We just need to look at it a little further," Bethe said.

For now, Rupright said he's just hoping to start the conversation. He's looking for community support for a fix on the lake that would involve action, not more studies.

"Sometimes you have to step up, roll up your sleeves and say it's time to do something," he said. "It's been ignored for too long."


Find Daily News reporter Rindi White online at www.adn.com/contact/rwhite or call 352-6709.

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