When Tacoma Public Utilities, formerly Tacoma City Light, completed the Mayfield and Mossyrock dams on the Cowlitz River for hydropower in the 1960s, the community was promised nice lakes for boating and other recreation.
But, in the last decade, a looming threat came into focus. If the Mossyrock Dam broke during the impending Cascadia Subduction Zone 9.0 earthquake, the flood would be beyond catastrophic. So, Tacoma lowered the lake.
When the water dropped, the opportunities for the promised recreation did, too, much to the chagrin of local leaders and residents. This year was especially bad.
Despite previous predictions that boat launches on Riffe Lake would be open in January after closing last October with low lake levels, the Mossyrock Park boat launch only became accessible in mid-May. Recent upgrades improved the park’s restrooms, swim area and parking lot. Still, the launch isn’t accessible for many — it was built for a much higher lake.
Frustrated by the inaccessibility, Mossyrock Mayor Randall Sassar on Friday morning urged local representatives to help speed up permitting processes to improve the launches.
At Taidnapam Park, Tacoma Public Utility spokesperson Monika Sundbaum previously told The Chronicle, “Two ideas we are moving forward with include extending the anchor point at the end of the Taidnapam North boat launch dock, which will allow for the use of the dock at lower elevations, and creating a turnaround at the end of the Taidnapam North boat launch, which will make it easier for vehicles with trailers to negotiate turning around on the ramp. Both are in the permitting process now.”
The water being lower in the winter than the late spring and early summer may seem counterintuitive, but the utility balances its decisions on required downstream flow levels and profit opportunities from the dam. In the winter, more people need power, thus more water has to go through the machine.
Additionally, the reservoir must be drafted “during the winter months to be able to accommodate for large rain events in order to help limit any potential downstream flooding impacts to the communities on the Cowlitz River,” Sundbaum said. “We constantly monitor weather and inflow forecasts, and rain amounts and snowpack levels, all of which are becoming harder to predict with climate change.”
Sundbaum said the long boat launch lane at the park could be “safely” reopened when the lake reached “approximately 708 feet” and the Taidnapam North boat launch could open when the lake reached “approximately 719 feet.”
According to the utility’s website, as of June 1, the lake is at 740.21 feet of elevation, and the Taidnapam Park launch is still closed.
As Sassar noted, it’s himself and the Lewis County Commissioners who bear the brunt of the public’s frustrations over the lake.
“I just wish there was a way that we could expedite something of this nature, especially where the lake is not handicap accessible,” Sassar said in a meeting with the county’s mayors and other electeds on Friday. “It’s been seven years now. Six or seven years since the lake has been dropped. And it just seems like it's taken forever to get anything. Any resolution on anything.”
For current information on the lake levels, visit https://www.mytpu.org/community-environment/parks-recreation/river-flows-lake-levels/.