Local Groups Seek State Funding to Combat Aquatic Weeds

Published July 1, 2006

Encouraged by the successful use of aquatic herbicides in eradicating invasive Eurasian milfoil, local water management districts in Vermont and Idaho are seeking state funding to continue fighting the noxious weed.

Herbicides Successful

Hoping to repeat the success achieved two years ago, three water management groups near Lake St. Catherine, Vermont have applied for a state permit to use aquatic herbicides to fight invasive Eurasian milfoil.

Faced with a dense outbreak of the aggressive weed in 2004, water management districts in the Lake St. Catherine area received permission to treat the lake and other area ponds and lakes with the chemical herbicide Sonar. Prior to the Sonar application, “the weeds were growing so thick they hampered boating, fishing and other recreational activities,” reported the May 2, 2006 Rutland Herald. After the treatment, “results were considered successful, because most of the milfoil was removed,” the Herald reported.

In 2005, water management districts in the area attempted to keep the milfoil in check by hiring divers to manually pull the weeds. Those efforts failed, and Lily Pond and Little Lake–connected to the south end of Lake St. Catherine–became infested with weeds again. Those bodies of water had been treated with Sonar in 2004, but the weeds returned quickly because milfoil is highly aggressive. The first treatment eradicated most, but not all, of the milfoil. Communities often learn the hard way that milfoil will return very quickly and prodigiously if treated with kid gloves after aquatic herbicide treatment.

“There were thousands of individual plants in Lily Pond” last summer, Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation scientist Susan Jary reported, according to the Herald article.

State Funding Sought

Inspired by a new Idaho law that established a $4 million fund to curtail milfoil throughout the state, the Lake St. Catherine-area water management districts are hoping for state funding to help defray the costs of aquatic herbicide treatment. Proponents of state funding point out milfoil’s aggressive nature means the weed will quickly spread to other bodies of water if it is not suppressed in the Lake St. Catherine area. They say state funding for milfoil eradication in Lake St. Catherine will save other local water management districts money and benefit the entire state.

Daniel Simmons, Natural Resources Task Force director at the American Legislative Exchange Council, explained why targeted herbicide applications have been environmentally superior to alternative treatments.

“The federal EPA’s standards for herbicides are so incredibly strict that it is no surprise that aquatic herbicides have been so successful and environmentally friendly,” Simmons said. “Herbicides approved for aquatic treatment and supervised by state authorities are inherently safe and reliable.

“A specifically targeted herbicide is more environmentally friendly than mass disruption of lake bottoms via mechanical harvesting or hand pulling of milfoil, digging up the lake bottom to get at plant roots,” Simmons added.

Idaho County Seeks Funds

Water management officials in Bonner County, Idaho have applied to receive some of the state’s newly available funds to combat milfoil.

Bonner County Weeds and Waterways Director Leslie Marshall on May 9 informed county commissioners of her department’s request for state funds. The department is seeking more than $1.5 million to eradicate milfoil in the Pend Oreille watershed.

The county figures aquatic herbicide treatment this year will eliminate 80 to 90 percent of a currently heavy milfoil infestation, and that the remaining milfoil can be economically kept in check in subsequent years.

Although the $1.5 million request would take up a large chunk of the state’s $4 million milfoil eradication budget, bodies of water in Bonner County are home to more than a third of the milfoil identified in a recent state survey.

Strong Legislative Support

The Idaho House of Representatives passed the Noxious Weed Law on March 1 by a vote of 65-5. The Senate approved the bill by a 34-5 vote on March 21. Then-governor Dirk Kempthorne (R) signed the bill into law on March 30, and the Idaho Department of Agriculture is now writing rules and regulations to implement the measure. The rules are expected to be completed in 2007, when they will be submitted to the Idaho Legislature for ratification.

Bonner County Commission Chairman Joe Young, a strong supporter of the county’s milfoil containment proposal, singled out for praise state Rep. Eric Anderson (R-Priest Lake), who spearheaded the Noxious Weed Law through the legislature.

“Without his support, it never would have gone through,” said Young, according to the May 10 Daily Bee.

Simmons agreed. “Eric Anderson should be complimented for creating a state program to battle milfoil. This is a perfect example of how states should be addressing environmental issues. Eurasian milfoil has decimated many aquatic environments throughout the states and threatens even more if it is not addressed seriously.”

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.