Supervisors approve consulting agreement to explore uses for Clear Lake algae

LAKEPORT, Calif. – The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved an agreement with a consulting firm to work on a grant to explore using algae from Clear Lake as a potential resource. Consulting firms are ideal to work with on this sort of thing because they can provide expert advice to ensure the Board of Supervisors understand the risks of what they’re doing. Consultancy firms are used for a number of different things, they are really important businesses. If anyone needs help from a consulting firm, they could always search for local ones in their area. As long as they have professional-looking consulting websites, it’s likely that the firm will be reliable.

The supervisors voted to approve waiving the consultant selection process and the agreement with Oscar Larson and Associates for the Department of Energy Grant Program consulting services, but not until after the board veered into a discussion on whether the request would detract from lake management goals.

Water Resources Director Scott De Leon originally had taken to the matter to the board on March 24, but returned to continue the discussion on Tuesday accompanied by Ken Davlin, project manager, president and senior engineer of Oscar Larson and Associates.

De Leon’s report to the board explained that last year his staff had negotiated a simple contract with Oscar Larson and Associates to prepare a report on the potential for lake algae to be used as a resource.

“The resulting report ‘Clear Lake Algae as a Resource, Preliminary Alternatives Evaluation set the stage for future project grant applications,” De Leon wrote. “Due to the unique nature of the types of projects, staff recommends the use of an outside firm to assist in the pursuit of outside funding.”

De Leon said the firm “has demonstrated the specialized skill and industry connections to merit a sole-source selection,” and so staff recommended the board approve the contract “for specialized services related to the development of grant applications for algae harvesting and processing.”

His written report to the board went on to state, “The County is often accused of not ‘thinking outside the box’ when it comes to finding solutions to issues. While we continue to pursue funding for projects and programs to reduce nutrients from entering Clear Lake, the fact is the lake will continue to produce algae for the foreseeable future due to the existing bank of nutrients in the bottom sediments. This proposal, if brought to fruition, could create a sustainable industry that utilizes cyanobacteria as a feedstock. This new industry could help reduce the negative impacts to water quality and create much needed jobs in the County. Because of the potential for economic growth, the Administrative Office has agreed to partner with Water Resources in the funding of the agreement.”

The contract amount is not to exceed $30,000, according to De Leon’s report.

Davlin said the company was founded in the 1940s and was selected by the government to create Redwood National Park. The company also is one of two selected by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to explore algae and biofuel production.

Supervisor Jim Steele initially voiced his objections to the pursuit, stating that it didn’t fit into any plan for fixing the lake.

Davlin told the board that he had history in Lake County, having spent time here during his childhood water skiing. However, he later stopped and went to Mendocino County because of the proliferation of algae in the lake.

He suggested that the county has “some real advantages here,” and should stop looking at algae as a public works expense but instead as a resource, which he said “changes the dynamics.”

Lake County also has a unique opportunity in that one jurisdiction oversees the lake, rather than many, as in the case of Klamath Lake.

He said there also have been a number of companies coming to the county that have wanted to harvest the algae for manufacturing everything from proprietary medical products to animal food. However, they haven’t been provided with the information they need about local resources.

“You have a paucity of information about this lake,” Davlin said, and he said that can be remedied by a thorough study to collect data.

At one point, Davlin got up and walked over to Steele, placing a small container before him on the dais.

“That’s Clear Lake algae. It’s a bio crude oil,” Davlin said.

The algae also can be used for compost for water retention for crops, Davlin said.

However, pilot programs needed to be carried out to find out what can be done practically with the materials, Davlin said.

He said his firm was hired by NASA to do biomass algae conversion, and he believed he and his staff had the experience and capability to work on Lake County’s behalf. During the discussion Davlin also explained that they were going to look at a variety of grants.

Steele said he was opposed from the standpoint that the county really wanted a new normal. He said he saw the agreement setting up a situation where the lake would need to produce more algae, not less.

He said the county needed to be looking for a clean lake during the summer, not algae production, and that the proposal was going in a different direction than using a management plan to improve the lake.

While he understood a lot of people have been asking for such algae use, “From my standpoint I don’t support it.”

Davlin said that algae has been present in Clear Lake for a long time. In his view, he said it was “economically impractical to eliminate the algae growth in the lake.”

Steele replied that was incorrect. He said the lake has changed over the years due to actions like removing wetlands. Now, he said that it’s not a matter or removing things from the lake but managing it.

He added that he believed the county was going to go in two directions at once, and he wanted a plan.

Board Chair Anthony Farrington said he respectfully disagreed with Steele, adding that the lake needed to be managed with a two-prong approach. “There is a reactive management plan that is of value.”

Farrington said he was tired of “analysis paralysis,” explaining that he’s excited to look at solutions, but getting algae out of the lake does no good without having a market for it.

Supervisor Jeff Smith said he agreed 100-percent with Farrington, explaining that he’s moved thousands of tons of algae on the lake using an air boat and booms. Smith said removing algae will help the lake in future years.

Supervisor Jim Comstock also agreed with the two-prong approach of prevention and action.

Steele said he had no problem with the two-prong approach, but rather with weakening the main approach, which he said was management. Dealing with nutrient cycling will help the lake, he said, explaining that Clear Lake “has not been this way forever.”

He added, “From my standpoint, the management of this lake is pretty straightforward.”

Farrington asked if the project would look only at aquatic weeds. Davlin said it would primarily look at the surface mats and harvesting options in a pilot program. That’s the grant they’re proposing to put together.

Based on an analysis of satellite imagery of the lake, Davlin said his firm has estimated that there are 10 million tons of algae a year in Clear Lake. “We don’t understand how you would deal with all of that,” he said.

Farrington pointed out that constituents have responded well to the board putting money into weed management and removal. He said he also wanted to explore designing a harvester specifically for the work.

Davlin told the board his firm was looking at opportunities to collect data, which would contribute to both the county’s management and response approaches to the lake.

“I actually agree with that,” said Steele.

Farrington said he believed “something brand new is actually good,” and that he didn’t believe exploring uses for algae would harm the long-term vision of managing the lake. “We know we need to be better stewards of the watershed.”

Steele said he would support the firm’s work from the standpoint that he’s a data hound.

Farrington pointed out that, before Steele was a supervisor, the county had contracted with him to study issues related to quagga and zebra mussel prevention, which wasn’t for the long-term management plan. “It’s really analogous to that same approach.”

Comstock moved to approve waiving the consultant selection process, which the board approved unanimously, before Comstock also moved to approve the agreement, which also received a 5-0 vote.

In other lake-related action on Tuesday, the board – as part of its consent agenda, and sitting as the Lake County Watershed Protection District Board of Directors – adopted a resolution authorizing the Lake County Watershed Protection District to file a grant application and signature authorization to execute agreement for a conservation innovation grant for the Clear Lake Tule Mitigation and Replanting Bank Project.


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