Viewpoint: DNR, others partner to keep aquatic invaders at bay

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Angie Hong is an educator for East Metro Water. Contact her at 651-330-8220, ext. 35, or angie.hong@mnwcd.org.

The number in Washington County is up to 22. In Chisago County it is 12. Anoka has 16 and Ramsey has 29. Statewide, approximately 5 percent of the 11,000 lakes in Minnesota are now infested by aquatic invasive species (AIS).

AIS are non-native plants and animals that threaten the health of our rivers, lakes and streams and cause millions of dollars of problems for local communities. Well-known invasives include zebra mussels, carp, Eurasian watermilfoil and curly-leaf pondweed. Once introduced to a body of water, they typically spread quickly and are expensive and nearly impossible to remove.

As of August 2016, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has identified 121 lakes, rivers and wetlands infested with zebra mussels. Included in this count are Forest Lake, White Bear Lake and the St. Croix River south of Stillwater. Meanwhile, curly leaf pondweed and common carp (so common that we've put the word in their name) have become so prolific that the DNR is no longer even tracking them on its infested waters list.

In an effort to slow the spread of aquatic invaders, the Minnesota legislature has begun to allocate funding to counties to use for aquatic invasive species prevention efforts such as watercraft inspections, AIS treatment efforts, early detection training, and public education. Projects receiving funding for 2017 include:

• Big Marine Lake Association - $12,000 to treat Eurasian water milfoil

• Carnelian-Marine-St. Croix Watershed District - $9,000 to keep Eurasian water milfoil in Long Lake from moving downstream into Terrapin and Mays Lakes, which are located within Warner Nature Center

• Clear Lake Association - $7000 to treat Eurasian water milfoil

• Comfort Lake - Forest Lake Watershed District - $9,000 to treat flowering rush and $17,000 to conduct watercraft inspections

• Lake Demontreville and Olson Association - $8,000 to treat Eurasian water milfoil

• Lake Elmo Lake Association - $8,000 to treat Eurasian water milfoil

• St. Croix River Association - $1,200 for outreach to Marinas; and

• Washington Conservation District - $61,500 to conduct hands-on AIS identification workshops at Forest Lake, Big Marine, and Lake Elmo; Send 10 citizens to the University of Minnesota AIS Detectors certification program; conduct seasonal watercraft inspections; monitor priority launches and lakes to detect new AIS infestations, and; coordinate rapid response teams for area lakes.

To prevent the spread of AIS, Minnesota law requires all boaters to clean and drain boats, trailers and other equipment after coming out of the water and to dispose of unwanted bait, including minnows, in the trash. Information collected during watercraft inspections in 2016 indicates that our recent years' education efforts are paying off. Most people are following the rules, especially when it comes to removing plants and mud from their boats. Of the 1,587 inspections performed in Washington County, there were only 15 AIS violations observed on boats coming into lakes. Twelve people had plants attached to their boats or trailers and three had failed to drain water from their boats. In each case, the inspectors ensured that the watercraft were cleaned and drained before entering the water.

Unfortunately, there continue to be more drain plug violations in Washington County than in other parts of the state. Inspectors found 7 percent of boats arriving at launches with their drain plugs in; according to law, drain plugs must be out while transporting boats and equipment.

Last month, the Washington Conservation District held three hands-on AIS identification workshops to help people learn how to identify curly leaf and Eurasian-water milfoil, the two most common invasive plants in nearby lakes. People also learned how to identify common native plants such as coontail, chara and northern milfoil.