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Spoonful by spoonful: Emptying lakes of AIS monsters

Most lakes have signs posted informing vacationing boat operators of the Minnesota laws. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

By Sarah Smith

While the funding fight and finger-pointing rages all around, Hubbard County’s new Water Quality Specialist is planning on expanding the local AIS vigilance over area lakes.

The county and various agencies and lake associations have cobbled together funds to inspect watercraft on area lakes and mount an educational program to spread the word about the harm Aquatic Invasive Species poses to the north country’s way of life.

“We hope to increase the number of lakes to 21,” said Nate Sitz, who started employment this past season as the county’s Water Quality Specialist.

Last year the county policed 16 lakes. A large group of lake volunteers and paid staff have manned public access points during peak hours to ensure compliance with new state laws cracking down on transporting aquatic hitchhikers.

“We’re adding three of the Crow Wings next year,” Sitz said, including 1st, 3rd and 8th Crow Wing Lakes.

“We’ve got the major lakes covered but the Crow Wings were vital to get that watershed protected,” Sitz added. “What your neighbors do on a lake affects everybody downstream.”

Last year, the first year inspectors were visible at public access points throughout Hubbard County, saw some confrontations as anglers learned their boats must be inspected. They resisted.

“If we keep doing it, it’s part of their routine,” Sitz said of the inspections.

But he admitted inspectors in 2013 did report some boat owners going to another lake if they were spotted. This year they won’t be as obvious at access points, Sitz said.

Live wells must be drained along with all ballast tanks on boats and boats that have been in infested waters must be decontaminated under laws passed each year toughening the transport of AIS.

“One inspector had minnows dumped at his feet but there’s been nothing too major,” Sitz said of the 2013 reaction to inspections.

Public access inspectors performed 10,000 inspections in 2013, up from 7,129 checks of boats the previous year. Inspectors are still encountering some opposition.

“Lots of people are really glad,” Sitz said of the inspections. “But we get a lot of complaints that it’s a waste of DNR money. But it’s not DNR money.”

The funds mainly come from lake associations, cities, townships and the county.

One DNR grant was available last year for $7,750 that likely won’t be part of the pool funds this year.

“Knowing the money is coming from private people” resolves many conflicts at public access points, but then opens the inspections to the larger question.

“The DNR is charged with managing the waters of the state,” Sitz pointed out.

But until the state funds the larger war, locals have been financing the skirmishes. Compliance costs.

Only 5 percent of the drain plugs had been left in, instead of pulled, Sitz said of Hubbard County’s yearend statistics.

“I don’t know if it makes a difference if they’re instate or out-of-state,” he added.

It is illegal to transport the water from one lake to another, so the slogan “Clean, Drain, Dry” is the new waterfront catchphrase.

“I’d like to see our numbers go down next year” in terms of drain plugs left in boats, Sitz said.

Boat owners who insisted they didn’t have anything contagious had “vegetation hanging off the trailer,” Sitz noted.

Monies this year went to purchase a decontamination station, which was situated at Johnson’s on the Water Service in Dorset.

It got minimal usage.

If boat owners voluntarily decontaminate their craft, there’s a $25 fee. Boat owners ordered to decontaminate do it at no charge.

Since nearly 10 percent of boats launched in Hubbard County waters came from infested lakes, the chance is ever-present that a lake could be contaminated, the yearend report indicated.

“The Mississippi River’s got all kinds of stuff,” he said.

Sitz suggested decontaminating your own boat with hot tap water. Don’t add bleach or chemicals, he suggested. Because some live wells hold residue, those chemicals or tainted water would enter a healthy lake or stream.

Zebra mussel veligers, the planktonic form, “are pretty fragile,” Sitz said. Hot water will contain them and the risk they’ll spread.

And don’t wash boats down near surface waters. Potentially contaminated water will simply run into the lake.

It should come as no surprise that the inspectors’ busiest week came over the July 4th holiday.

They checked fishing and sport boats. Big wake board boats are problematic, Sitz said, because their ballast tanks never drain entirely. There aren’t too many in the county, however, Sitz said.

Docks must also be quarantined. Once landbound, they must remain there 21 days before re-launch.

The fight is expensive.

Just ask Portage Lake residents, who’ve spent $100,000 ridding their lake of curly leaf pondweed. And that was “just to control it,” Sitz said.

Lakes infested with zebra mussels have tried a pesticide treatment called Zequanox, but it is expensive.

“Zequanox is made from the dead cells of a naturally occurring bacterium commonly found in soil and water, and it does not harm humans, birds, fish, aquatic creatures or the environment,” its manufacturer indicates. “It is already approved for use in closed-water systems such as energy and power plants.”

“We think it’s safe to use but then we thought asbestos was,” Sitz said. “We’re being more careful because of the mistakes of the past.”

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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