November 25, 2013

Making progress in the fight against milfoil - By Rob McClure

Have you ever wondered why some guy always asks to check the bottom of your boat when you leave your favorite lake or pond? During the summer, you can find such a person hanging out near the boat launches with a clipboard and a lawn chair, courteously requesting to check your hull for invasive aquatic plants or IAPs; commonly referred to as milfoil. These courtesy boat inspectors or CBIs are looking for aquatic plants that attach to your boat and transfer to other bodies of water, which left to their own devices would exponentially multiply. The CBIs are part of a dedicated group of people who are literally at war with these invasive and harmful plants. 

St. Joseph’s College hosted the annual IAP Control Roundtable this week in the Alfond Center. The event was chaired by the Maine Milfoil Consortium and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Representatives from various lake groups were given 10 minutes to present their information. The goal was to share and discuss successes, challenges, innovations, lessons learned, project costs and funding. 

Some of the various water body organizations were present including: Maine DEP, Raymond Waterways Protection Association, Maine Lakes Society, Little Sebago Lake Association, Lakes Environmental Association (LEA), Auburn Water District and others. 

According to Paul Gregory, an Environmental Specialist and Invasive Species Program director for the Maine DEP, the milfoil issue is one of the “largest threats to Maine waterways because it can offset the water chemistry, which then depletes the oxygen leading to an negative effect on the fisheries.” 

“Maine’s waterways generate an annual income of $3.5 billion dollars when factoring in all the components, everything from tourism to fishing bait,” warned Gregory. Apparently there is quite a bit at stake for Maine in this war. The quality of drinking water can be negatively impacted when the plants alter the chemistry or when the bottom is disturbed during the removal process.

“It seems the war on aquatic invasive plants is going our way at the moment. The word is there have been no new infestations for the last two years. Much of this success is do to the hard work and dedication of those involved which at one time was seen as an insurmountable task. The Maine DEP working with only three people assigned to over 6,000 lakes, was able to facilitate some 87,000 inspections, largely through the Lakes Rivers Protection Sticker Program. However, the overall credit for the success has to go to the volunteers who account for 99 percent of the effort,” according to Gregory.

With so many different water bodies in Maine, there is no panacea to apply in every situation. Each individual area or lake organization has to adapt to their specific problem or need. For some, the removal process of milfoil poses a serious threat to drinking water quality where others it may not be an issue, therefore the removal approach will be different. These variables require an asymmetrical approach to the fight, which makes this annual event so crucial to the overall collaborative effort. 

A shared approach of prevention and control seems to be a successful model that most areas have embraced. Part of the control process for some involves using a Diver Assisted Suction Harvester or DASH. These converted pontoon boats are fitted with special water pumping systems that use scuba divers to suction milfoil off the bottom. They are capable of suctioning thousands of gallons of material covering large areas. The group also discussed various materials that are used to cover the bottom to prevent sunlight, thus preventing new growth. 

Adam Perron, LEA education director, talked about his success in running several crews of divers onboard the DASH. “I recruit college kids, they come back every year and I include them in the planning process as well.” Perron discussed other issues such as intensive safety training, including wilderness first aid for his crew.

Others discussed their role in the organization as information hubs and trainers. Some discussed fundraising events and techniques. Overall, judging by the success stories, the event has achieved everything it set out to do and more.

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