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Zebra mussels scaring Becker County lake residents; COLA steps up efforts

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With the recent news that zebra mussels have invaded Lake Melissa and Pickerel Lake, a decision on what to do with the $150,000 the state has allocated to Becker County for aquatic invasive species prevention has acquired a new sense of urgency.

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Thus, it came as no surprise that the Becker County Coalition of Lake Associations’ July meeting drew a large crowd Thursday in Detroit Lakes.

For most the two-hour meeting, COLA members debated whether the funding should be focused on the acquisition of decontamination units and/or AIS inspector training, assistance for research and development in finding long-term treatment and prevention methods, or other priorities.

The aim was to establish priorities for spending both this year’s $150,000 allocation and the $320,000 in state AIS prevention aid anticipated for 2015, “and every year thereafter,” according to COLA Secretary Barb Halbakken Fischburg, who is also president of the Lake Detroiters lake association.

The group decided that this year’s money should be targeted toward purchasing decontamination units and paying for the training of more Level 2 and Level 1 AIS inspectors.

Level 2 inspectors are trained to handle the decontamination units — which contain water heated up to a temperature of at least 140 degrees, the minimum temperature needed to kill adult zebra mussels. Level 1 inspectors are certified to prevent infested watercraft from being placed in infested waters. Each decontamination unit has an estimated cost of $30,000.

The recommendations will be passed on to the county’s AIS Advisory Panel, which is made up of representatives from area water quality agencies, lake associations, lake service providers, citizens and natural resource management officials.

State Sen. Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley, and state Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, both addressed the group Thursday.

“We all know prevention is much more effective in fixing a problem than trying to do so after it happens,” Eken said, noting that he felt Becker County “has shown the most leadership” of any county in the state when it comes to AIS prevention.

Marquart echoed Eken’s remarks, but added that “even though we’ve already come light years ... I think there’s a lot more work to be done.

“We’ve got a lot of challenges ahead,” he said, referencing a recent report from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources that watercraft inspectors had found more than 1,300 boaters arriving at public water accesses with aquatic plants, invasive animals or water in or on their boats and equiment.

If not stopped, these boaters could have infested other lakes. Inspectors also found 2,600 boats arriving at the accesses with drain plugs in, another violation.

In addition, DNR conservation officers have issued 169 citations and 375 warning tickets to boaters for AIS violations at enforcement check stations and public accesses this season.

In all, this marks the equivalent of a 26 percent noncompliance rate, according to the DNR.

But as Kevin Tinjum of J & K Marine pointed out, there is an issue with even bigger potential for causing the spread of zebra mussels to non-infested lakes: boat lifts and docks.

“The majority of our customers have no idea what to do with their docks and lifts (to get rid of zebra mussels),” he said. “They’re so microscopic when they start to grow that they’re like grains of sand.”

Tinjum said he worries about boat lifts coming off an infested lake and being moved to a non-infested lake without enough time allowed for the lift to dry out and kill the zebra mussels.

By moving a lift from one lake to another without using proper decontamination methods, Tinjum said, “you’re planting a seed” that can grow into a significant problem down the road.

COLA Vice President Tera Guetter agreed, noting, “It’s something that needs to be looked at.”

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