One Boat Away

Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results. Some
smart guy named Albert Einstein said that and it’s a thought that comes to mind when considering our
collective response to Aquatic Invasive Species in our Minnesota waterways.

In the past, the recreational quality of our metro area lakes has been highly impacted by the
unintentional transfer of invasive species from one lake to another. Curly Leaf Pondweed and Eurasian
Milfoil are just two examples. Within two to three years of appearing in one lake, they are observed
in adjacent lakes. These mats of weeds have clogged many a propeller and made many fine lakes un-
navigable as they reproduced and multiplied. Public and private monies were spent to reduce their
impact, either by treating them with chemicals (are these multi syllable compounds really safe?) or
harvesting them with nautical threshers (where does all the stinky wet “hay” with entangled fish end up
anyway?). A lakeshore home owner might typically spend $200-$600 per year in an attempt to reduce
them for a season in their immediate shoreline. Citizen-based Lake Associations might spend $5000 to
$15,000 to fight them in the common areas, trying to open up lanes so boats can move from one part of
a lake to another. Parks Departments do the same. Grants from the DNR and other public entities help
defray the costs but real money is spent. Our collective money is spent. Your money is spent.

Now the latest invasive species threat in our lakes, zebra mussels, is at our doorstep. When
you see a picture of one of these brown and gold striped mini morsels nestled in a finely manicured
hand, you react the same way as you might when you see a baby rabbit. Cute! The problem is that they
reproduce like rabbits and, once established, there is no environmentally safe control method to kill
them. Because of this, the DNR does not try to eliminate zebra mussels if they become established in a
waterway. The mission becomes only one of containment.

“So what?” some people ask, “What’s the big deal?” Unlike invasive weeds, which are a nuisance
when they infect a lake, zebra mussels are a disaster. Medicine Lake resident Scott Burglechner
has firsthand experience with zebra mussels. He can tell you what the big deal is. Following are his
observations.

  • “Zebra mussels reproduce like rabbits and are tough, clingy, and sharp, like razors.”
  • “My recollection is that zebra mussels were first detected in Cayuga Lake (in western New
    York State) in 1993 or 1994. The lake was fully infested with them by 1995. This is a lake that
    stretches 38 miles.”
  • “Here is what infestation looks like: clumps of tiny razor sharp shells attached to any hard
    surface—rocks, docks, pipes, boats—and my perception is that the shallower the water, the
    greater the infestation.”
  • “Within a year every boat in the lake had to be on a lift. They really clog intake lines on boats
    and irrigation systems.”
  • “We had to start wearing shoes in the lake to prevent our feet from being cut.”
  • “I have seen people dive from docks, brush the bottom of the lake, and come up with deep cuts
    from the zebra mussels.”
  • “I have observed that the water appears clearer than it used to, allowing weeds to grow thicker
    and removing food from the ecosystem for young fish.”
  • “I am scared about what these animals could do to our Lake. It is much smaller and shallower
    than Cayuga Lake. I believe serious impacts to the natural and recreational uses of our lake are
    ONE BOAT AWAY.”

These beasts are currently infesting many lakes in the Metro Area including Lake Minnetonka, Lake
Nokomis and Prior Lake. Their spread from lake to lake most likely occurs when improperly cleaned
boats enter clean waters after having been in infected waters. The tiny mussels or their larvae are
stowaways on the watercraft or trailer, in the water in the motor, bilge, bait bucket or livewell or in
aquatic vegetation and transferred when the boat is launched into clean waters. While there are laws
in place with moderate fines to protect against this kind of transfer, the level of boater knowledge and
compliance to these laws is truly anyone’s guess. A conservation officer from the Morris area reported
that 25% of the boats he inspected were being transported illegally with their drain plugs in and the
boats undrained. (Star Tribune, 6/5/11). With that kind of performance, your favorite lake may be ONE
BOAT AWAY from being added to the list of infected waters. And unlike invasive weeds, which are a
nuisance when they infect a lake, zebra mussels are a disaster.

This is when Albert Einstein’s famous quote comes to mind. With a lot of money, we’ve used public
service messages and random boat inspections in the past and have only slowed the transfer of previous
invasive species. That approach is not good enough. We need a much higher level of attention and the
resources to inspect every boat coming and going from the launches. We need each and every boater
reminded of the rules and fined if they don’t comply. We need tools to clean and disinfect the boat and
trailer at the launch station. But can we afford it?

Governor Dayton just signed the Aquatic Invasive Species legislation to ramp up the battle but, while
much improved, it doesn’t provide sufficient resources. With over 3000 Lakes with public accesses in
the state, the costs would be huge to provide just inspection resources at every one of them. There are
roughly 2000 hours of launch access during the period that the water is warm enough for zebra mussel
larvae to survive. Providing an inspector at each launch (assume $10/hour) would cost $20,000. Total
cost, $60 million. Is this likely to be added to our state budget? Nope. Will boat fees be immediately
raised statewide to pay for this kind of thing? Don’t hold your breath. Are Lake Associations willing to
foot part of the bill for their individual lake access? Absolutely but most can’t raise the kind of money
needed.

So what’s the solution? We must be creative and must combine our resources to protect our lakes. The
leaders of the lake associations from Christmas Lake, Lotus Lake and Lake Minnewashta have formed
the Lake Action Alliance (LAA). Our lake associations are willing to pool our money and volunteers. We
are actively working with the Carver Parks authorities, The Minnehaha Creek and Riley Purgatory Bluff
Creek Watershed Districts and the leadership of Chanhassen and Shorewood to pilot a program where:

  • The individual education of boaters and inspection of their boat and trailer is not performed at
    each individual launch on each lake but performed at a central inspection site on one lake.
  • Once certified as “clean” at the inspection site, the boater is free to launch at any of our three
    lakes.
  • A keypad controlled access gate at the remote launch site would prevent uncertified boats from
    launching but the certified boater would be given a single use key code to enable their launch.
  • Is it inconvenient to boaters wishing to launch? Yes, but nowhere near as inconvenient as when their
    favorite lake is contaminated and permanently infested with zebra mussels. If the next boater after you
    is careless or uninformed, you may be ONE BOAT AWAY from having their favorite lake being added to
    the list of infected waters.

    So what do we need? We all have to sacrifice a little to make this happen. We need our city, county
    and state leaders to help us do the right thing, not just what is popular or politically safe. They must
    require that this pilot be launched immediately and that its guidelines be followed. We need our Lake
    Association members to help with the funding for the pilot or volunteer if they can’t. We need our
    Watershed Districts to help with the communication and funding, if they can. We need the DNR to help
    us staff, train and manage the resources. We need the Sheriff’s department to ticket the violators. We
    need the boaters to be understanding, cooperative and part of the solution. And we need all citizens to
    contact their local authorities with their support for the concept.

    Let’s get this method in place for this summer and we can find a more elegant solution for the future.
    But we just can’t keep doing what we’ve done in the past and expect different results. That’s insanity.

    Steve Gunther,
    Chanhassen
    President, Lake Minnewashta Preservation Association

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