Last Thursday, nearly 100 people turned out for KEA’s premier of Karen Hayes’ new documentary film, The Hayden Lake Project which describes in clear and convincing style what is happening to Kootenai County’s largest lake that isn’t Lake Coeur d’Alene.
As the clear-eyed film points out, phosphorous is quite literally choking Hayden Lake, which doesn’t have a river outflow to relieve the pollution loads flowing into it each year. The pollution comes from logging sediments, stormwater runoff, and leaky septic systems in the watershed, and continues to build up year after year after year. The pollution threatens not only the Lake’s ecosystem, but the local recreation economy and lakefront property values. More frighteningly, however, algae growth is beginning to threaten the public’s health.
The efforts to clean up Hayden Lake seem stalled, however. In a panel discussion after the film, it was clear that frustration is building. When asked whether it was a problem of our laws not being strong enough or our existing laws not being enforced, local attorney Scott Reed said, simply, “Both.” It was also clear that the effort is hampered by a patchwork of jurisdictions without the funding or inclination to take strong action. Residents along the lake complained of ongoing development and docks moving forward without permits, violations without penalties, and elected and appointed officials without accountability.
Nevertheless, we were encouraged. Knowing that an informed citizenry is much more equipped to demand action, we were pleased to see that the film was having its intended effect. Armed with information and motivation and new camaraderie, 100 Kootenai County residents left the film premier, we were convinced, to take action and demand more.
But we were devastated the next day with the news that Lee Shellman, a longtime resident, Republican activist, and unsung hero for Hayden Lake had passed away. Shellman, who was an active force behind the Hayden Lake Watershed Association, would have been the obvious leader to take advantage of this momentum and help lead the charge. We are enormously saddened by the loss. The job will be so much more difficult without him.