Ellis Lake

Algae bloom and debris plague a corner of Ellis Lake on Thursday. 

Marysville has a unique asset with Ellis Lake, which is located in the heart of the city. But the man-made pond has been less of an attraction and more of a pain in recent years, given its water quality issues -- namely with the presence of algae blooms.

Local residents Charlie Mathews and Dale Whitmore – a Yuba Water Agency director and former Marysville councilman, respectively – went before City Council members on Tuesday and proposed a plan to divert water from the Yuba River into Ellis Lake. An electrical box and pump that used to do that have been out of commission for years, and the two men said they would donate $11,500 to the city to refurbish the equipment to see how its use would impact the water quality. 

“Right now, we are pumping groundwater into the lake, which has a fair amount of nitrogen and phosphorus, which is feeding the algae,” Whitmore said. “Yuba River water is very low in those nutrients, so we believe that we would reduce the amount of algae in the lake during the summer months by diverting water from the river.”

Algae, naturally occurring, grows in water, and blooms occur when algae grows rapidly and can be seen without a microscope. Certain types of algae can pose risks to humans and animals that come into direct contact.

Whitmore said despite their offer, the city declined to give them the go-ahead, opting to continue with their plans of conducting a pilot aeration study in the near future to see how that can reduce the algae. 

“We are very frustrated that it has taken this long to make a decision. We need to keep different options open. We are willing to jump in and do something about the river pump because that’s the way the lake was kept fresh for many decades,” Whitmore said. “We need to do something here to fix the problem.”

City Manager Marti Brown wrote in a letter to council members ahead of Tuesday’s meeting that outside legal counsel brought up a number of potential issues with the proposed pump project. She said it would require oversight and/or permits from multiple jurisdictions and could jeopardize the city’s good standing with the State Water Board and result in further fines and penalties. 

And there are officials from the Yuba Water Agency, which watches over operations on the Yuba River. On multiple occasions the agency has let the city know that the equipment used to pump water into Ellis Lake from the river is an unauthorized diversion point that would need the proper regulatory permits before it would be legal to divert again. 

Marysville Mayor Ricky Samayoa said the council agrees that something needs to be done to improve the water quality in Ellis Lake. He said diverting water from the river could end up being a solution down the road, but council members want to make sure the proper studies are done first to ensure that’s the most viable option. 

“Bottom line, everyone can agree we want a healthier lake, and when you walk around the lake, especially these last few days, it looks like a soup out there right now,” Samayoa said. “Something has to be done; a solution has to come out. We all share the goal of creating a beautiful Ellis Lake. How we get there is the real question, and it will probably require multiple solutions because there are multiple issues.”

Ad hoc committee

Earlier this month, the Yuba Water Agency approved the appointment of two of its members to an ad hoc committee with Marysville officials to oversee and provide guidance to city staff on the development and completion of an Ellis Lake master plan. The city has plans to develop a master plan that addresses the lake’s water quality issues. 

“Everyone wants a long-term sustainable master plan for the lake, something that looks at everything from the ballpark and the lake’s walkability to its attractiveness and recreational opportunities; things that add value to the city,” Samayoa said. “The water agency has expressed their desire to be partners on that, and we are going to take that opportunity. With the agency’s support, I think we will be able to do a lot of good things.” 

Yuba Water Agency Executive Director Curt Aikens said considerable investigation will need to be done to determine the best source of water for Ellis Lake. He said part of that study will be focused on figuring out how much the cost of water would be if it were diverted from the river.

“Without the proper researched plan, it is difficult to say how much something like the proposal to divert water from the Yuba River would cost in the short-run and in the long-run,” Aikens said. “River diversion capital and operation costs along with well water costs are representative of the type of information needed to develop a plan.”

Two members of the YWA board will begin meeting with Samayoa and City Councilman Bruce Buttacavoli in the coming months to begin working on a master plan.

“We have committed to working with the city on this significant and valuable project and believe it’s important that the problem be thoroughly studied by professionals who can propose a way to fix this once and for all, so that we can all enjoy that incredible asset once again,” Aikens said.

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