June 29 – July 5, 2012Vol. 14, No. 4

A Delicate Plant That Causes Big Problems

by Lynn Matson

Non-native milfoil is an invasive plant that has the potential to greatly diminish the recreational value of our lakes, alter the balance of the ecosystem in our watershed, and adversely impact our entire community. It's a serious threat to everything we cherish and want to protect and preserve about this area.

Last fall, variable milfoil was found growing in North Bay in Great Pond. The good news is that it is confined to a relatively small part of the lake and an aggressive action plan is underway to remove it and keep it from spreading. This column is devoted to telling the milfoil story: what it is, the problems it can cause, what's being done to stop it and what you can do to help.

Why Is Invasive Milfoil Such A Threat?

A single stem of non-native milfoil doesn't appear to be much of a threat. In fact, the plant's fine, delicate, feather-like appearance makes it very attractive in the water. That's clearly why it was such a popular fish tank plant and sold in pet stores for so many years in this country. The problem is that when invasive milfoil gets loose there's not one stem but thousands and thousands growing in the lake and no natural enemies to stop it. When that happens, words can't begin to describe how this feathery plant can totally transform a lake from a recreational gem into a weed-infested nightmare.

The mat of milfoil that grows on the water's surface can be so thick and dense that you cannot swim in it or even get a boat through it. It makes kayaking and canoeing very difficult, and fishing a trying and tedious undertaking. Milfoil will also quickly wrap around a propeller and can be ingested into an engine water intake port resulting in failures and expensive repairs.

It's abundantly clear that milfoil can greatly reduce the visual appeal and recreational value of our lakes. But the threat of milfoil reaches way beyond the water. It hurts our entire community. A lake fouled with milfoil will be much less attractive to prospective property buyers, renters, vacationers, boaters and even fishermen. Area businesses will suffer; lakeshore property values will decline; and the tax burden, now heavily born by lakeshore owners, will shift more to non-lakeshore properties.

This tax shift is not a hypothetical situation. Lakeshore property values decreased 15-20% on Lake Arrowhead in Limerick, Maine, after that lake became infested with milfoil.

What Does It Cost To Manage Milfoil?

The expense to control invasive milfoil can be as onerous as the mess this plant can cause in our lakes. It is estimated that well over $100 million is spent every year in this country in an attempt to manage nuisance populations of milfoil.

In many parts of the U.S. the only way that milfoil infested lakes can be made usable is by employing milfoil harvesters. These barge-type watercraft have a combine head that cuts the milfoil below the surface, a conveyor system that moves the cut milfoil onto the harvester and a hydraulic lift that offloads it onto the shore. Then the milfoil is hauled away in dump trucks.

Please understand that these harvesters don't kill the milfoil. They simply open up lanes so boats can get out to the deeper water where the milfoil doesn't grow. The milfoil quickly grows back in the cut areas making the harvesting not only expensive but a never-ending operation.

The City of Minneapolis, Minnesota, uses two harvesters to help manage milfoil on five of the fourteen lakes that lie within the city limits. To start with, the harvesters cost between $90,000 and $200,000. On top of that, the city spends $100,000 a year for the actual harvesting. But here's the catch. All five of their lakes on which milfoil is harvested total only 1085 acres and they actually harvest just 125 acres for "recreational access only."

By comparison, Great Pond is 8,533 acres, and Long Pond is 2,557 acres. That's a total of 11,090 acres. So our potential problems and costs are many times what the City of Minneapolis is facing.

To give you some idea of what's involved in battling milfoil on a large lake system, look at Chautauqua Lake in western New York, which is just over 13,000 acres. Highly valued, just like our lakes, Chautauqua employs eight milfoil harvesters, five transit barges, three shoreline conveyors, four dump trucks, and a summer staff of forty workers to fight its milfoil battle at a cost of $500,000 a year. According to the website of the Chatauqua Lake Association, this armada of equipment removed 55 dump truck loads of milfoil in just five days of harvesting late last summer!

The expense to battle milfoil can quickly become overwhelming. That's why an aggressive plan is being implemented in Great Pond to keep it from spreading. We've got to contain the milfoil now before it fills our lakes and empties our wallets.

Great Pond Milfoil Action Plan Update

The BRCA milfoil crew put down 13 benthic barriers and pulled 110 gallons of milfoil last week. The Survey Crew worked primarily in North Bay. No new infestations were found. New England Milfoil will resume their work this week.

The Stop Milfoil Capital Campaign has received $151,380 from 184 individual donors. To get more information, to volunteer, or to donate, call 512-5554 or visit www.belgradelakesassociation.org.