Unfounded Fears, Lack of Funding Stall Expanded Cleanup

Published October 1, 2005

Despite the successes being registered by new aquatic herbicides, invasive Eurasian milfoil remains the most widespread killer of otherwise-pristine lakes in the United States.

One obstacle is unfounded fears, propagated by environmental activist groups, of any chemical application to the environment. The Lake Benton, Minnesota success story was unnecessarily delayed for many years while state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) officials blocked herbicide application and implemented other, less successful measures.

“Unsuccessful efforts were carried on for 15 years without success before the current plan came into effect,” reported the July 13 Pioneer County Star.

“If there was an unhappy note” regarding this year’s aquatic herbicide success, “it was that it has taken so long to get this change in the lake,” reported the Star. “Still, that’s history now and the DNR agreed to the treatment and the pilot project appears to be a success.”

Activists Opposed Herbicide Use

Prior to the success story at Washington’s Capitol Lake, activist groups opposed treating the lake with herbicides. They made groundless allegations of procedural violations after treatment proved to be effective.

“The chemical treatments were criticized by a group of Olympia activists who alleged violations of pollution laws and said the chemical wasn’t permitted in a saltwater environment,” reported the July 27 Olympia, Washington Olympian. “The group also claimed too much of the chemical was used in the lake.”

However, noted the Olympian, “An investigator from the state Department of Agriculture looked into the claims before determining that the chemical treatments were done legally and according to plan.”

Wasting Time

“Federal and state officials must keep in mind that aquatic herbicides have been registered by the U.S. EPA after a rigorous evaluation,” said Jim Skillen, manager of formulator issues for Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment. “The EPA has determined that the use of these products will ’cause no unreasonable adverse effect to human health or the environment.’ That means these products can be used safely and have been used safely for decades.

“There is absolutely no need to waste additional time and resources at the local level debating whether the aquatic herbicides in question can be used safely,” Skillen added. “That determination has already been made. Local jurisdictions don’t waste time debating whether Tylenol or Sudafed can be used safely; the USFDA has already made that determination. Thus, they should not waste time and resources debating about aquatic herbicides.”

Governments Stall on Funding

Another obstacle to more widespread use of herbicides to stop invasive aquatic weeds is a lack of funding. Jurisdiction over lakes and other large bodies of water frequently involves multiple towns, counties, or water districts. In such situations, each jurisdiction has an incentive to wait for others to act.

Moreover, even regarding single-jurisdiction bodies of water, local governments frequently seek to force lakeside property owners to pay for treatment, even when the body of water is a public resource available to all.

Lakeside property owners, for example, were required to pay for the successful treatments at Vermont’s Lake St. Catherine, Michigan’s Houghton Lake, Minnesota’s Lake Benton, and Washington’s Capitol Lake. While property owners adjacent to hundreds of other lakes across the country are unable or unwilling to finance the treatment of public lakes, invasive Eurasian milfoil continues to spread and choke the life out of previously pristine waters.

“States should acknowledge that invasive weeds are a serious threat to the environment, mandate that these invasive plants be eradicated, and establish a fund that local jurisdictions can access for treatment via grants or a revolving loan program,” said Skillen. “If funds were readily available, early detection and eradication programs could be created within each state, which would save millions of dollars. Currently, there is no system in place, and invasive weed populations are allowed to grow until there is a ‘crisis’ and local residents demand action.”

— James M. Taylor