Lake Tapps, a man-made reservoir in east Pierce County created by Puget Sound Energy in 1911 for the purpose of hydroelectric power production until it ceased in 2004, is vast — encompassing a surface area of 4.50 square miles.
“Lake Tapps is such a large lake,” said Corina Byerley, a spokeswoman for East Pierce Fire and Rescue. “If you’re in an emergency, it’s hard to tell where you’re at.”
Since 2014, a public safety initiative implemented by East Pierce Fire and Rescue called the Incident Locator Program has been successful at marking key locations — both public and private — along the lake with numbered reflective signs made of aluminum.
“We got the idea from a similar program that West Pierce Fire and Rescue is doing on American Lake,” Byerley said.
Since 2014, 153 reflective signs have been posted on both residential and public properties. Though no hard data has been collected on the success of the program, Byerley remembers one such incident occurring during the first month when signs were out when passengers on a boat adrift recognized the sign and called in the sign number to 911 dispatchers. The 911 dispatchers were able to send out first responders to the exact location and the boat passengers were rescued.
Now, East Pierce Fire is seeing a need to expand the program. Cascade Water Alliance, a municipal corporation that purchased Lake Tapps from Puget Sound Energy in 2009, and plans to one day use the reservoir as a municipal water supply source, has agreed to invest up to $10,000 for a minimum of 400 additional signposts to be placed on private parties pre-selected by East Pierce Fire. Pre-selected properties were mailed an invitation and had until May 31 to accept a free sign.
Although the paramount purpose of the program is to ensure public safety, Elaine Kraft, the intergovernmental and communications director for Cascade Water, said the program also helps with the day-to-day preservation and operation efforts on the lake.
“People get disoriented on Lake Tapps, so we are very keen on safety,” Kraft said. “But it also helps us with operations and keeping the lake clean. People can report milfoil on the lake, a log floating, or a dock floating.
“We’re keeping the reservoir clean and healthy, and operating incredibly efficiently,” Kraft noted. “We’re working with the tribes and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. When we do (use the reservoir as a water supply someday), it will be ready.”
Byerley said East Pierce Fire has identified 1,749 lakefront properties that could potentially receive a numbered sign. The 400 pre-selected properties invited to receive a sign are all residential.
“On the public properties, most people know where those are,” Byerley explained. “It’s more effective to have the signs on residential properties.”
Byerley said those property owners not pre-selected but interested in posting a sign are encouraged to purchase one. Signs are eight inches tall by 12 to 14 inches wide, aesthetically pleasing, and cost $28. The preferred location of a sign is on the dock. If a dock is not available, then the sign can be put on a post on the property or on a boathouse.
To learn more and order a sign, visit eastpiercefire.org and click on the Incident Locator Program icon on the homepage.