Rains turn Lake Serene drainage woes into headache for county

LYNNWOOD — Homeowners on the shores of Lake Serene have watched nervously this month as water covered entire back yards and inundated crawl spaces.

It’s not just the heavy rains contributing to the problems at this lake north of Lynnwood, in unincorporated Snohomish County. A major factor, county officials concede, is a blocked drainage system.

The county over the weekend started emergency efforts to pump water out of the lake and around some blockages, as planners look into long-term fixes. Some homeowners are worried it may be too late. They’re critical of what they see as the county’s inaction over both the short and long term. Private ownership of some of the drainage areas, however, could complicate any solution.

“This is not a deal where we can wait — all it will take is another rainstorm,” said John Prestek, 69, who has lived on the lakefront since the late 1980s. “This is not normal maintenance. It’s a first-class emergency.”

Lake Serene sits just west of Highway 99, south of the Mukilteo Speedway. At normal levels, its surface covers more than 40 acres.

About 90 homes ring the lake, where most of the shore is privately owned, save for a sliver of public access.

In 35 years of living here, Marc Bhend has never seen things this bad.

“Now the water’s right up to the foundation,” Bhend said Monday. “I opened up the crawl space. There’s a foot of water in the crawl space.”

The current problems stem from a failed outflow pipe and blocked drainage on the west end of the lake. Bhend, 76, said neighbors have had an ongoing dialogue with the county for decades.

“They knew 25 years ago that there was a problem with the outflow, but they did not take it seriously,” Bhend said.

Meanwhile, land around the lake has been increasingly developed, including a subdivision now under construction across the street from Bhend and Prestek. That sends more water flowing in their direction, over paved surfaces.

Unlike some other local lakes, Lake Serene no longer has a creek or other natural outflow.

Instead, it drains through an 18-inch pipe on the west end, said Debbie Terwilleger, director of the county’s Surface Water Management Division.

County crews began investigating the problem last week, after the division received calls from about a half-dozen Lake Serene homeowners, Terwilleger said.

Since then, they’ve identified three issues: sediment in a short section of pipe, a drainage ditch to the west that’s partially blocked and a plugged pipe further downstream.

The lake drainage flows through private property, so the county needs permission from property owners to perform the work.

While the solution for the pipe sediment and the clogged ditch are relatively straightforward, the blocked pipe downstream will require engineers to devise a better system. They don’t want to contribute to erosion in the downstream gulches, Terwilleger said. The engineering work will take time; how long, they can’t say.

“We’re trying to do whatever we can to lower the water levels in any way we can that doesn’t worsen the downstream impacts,” Terwilleger said. “We want to carefully engineer it so we don’t create downstream problems in our effort to fix upstream problems.”

Since Friday, public work crews have been trying to draw down lake levels with two 4-inch pumps.

Bhend scoffs at the use of pumps, comparing it to using a straw to drain a bathtub with a faucet that’s left on. Terwilleger disagreed with Bhend’s analogy, but acknowledged the pumps alone won’t come close to solving the problem.

“I think it’s better than that, but I’m not going to tell you that we’re going to drain the whole lake with two 4-inch pumps,” she said.

Heavy rains haven’t helped the situation.

More than 1.4 inches fell at nearby Paine Field on Sunday, said Brent Bower, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Seattle.

The area has been hit with 8.6 inches of rain since the dry spell ended Feb. 10, Bower said. The 5.2 inches of rain recorded at Paine Field so far in March already matches what can be expected for an entire November, typically the wettest month in these parts.

National Weather Service forecasts called for a 50 percent chance of rain Tuesday, increasing to 80 percent on Wednesday.

That’s kept folks like Dave Wallace, 75, on edge.

At his lakefront home about a half-mile east of Bhend and Prestek, Wallace already built a nearly knee-high wall a few years back to keep water out of his basement.

These days, sump pumps gurgle every 30 seconds or so to keep water on the right side of the barrier.

“Right now, I’m hanging on two sump pumps to keep me dry,” Wallace said. “The lake has come up so far, that it is going around my wall and I’m having to sandbag.”

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

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