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Scott Rall: The bad penny story told another way

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sports Worthington, 56187
Worthington Minnesota 300 11th Street / P.O. Box 639 56187

Scott Rall

Daily Globe outdoors writer 

I have heard the story about the bad penny that just keeps on showing up. I don’t know the story behind this story, but there is another story that also just keeps coming up. That story is the one about aquatic invasive species.

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The Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council a few weeks back heard a presentation for the coalition of Minnesota Lake Associations requesting $25 million to combat this issue. A brief explanation follows about what this organization thinks is the answer to stopping one invasive species called the zebra mussel.

Zebra mussels are a small clam-like water dwellers that reproduce very quickly in lakes that offer the proper elements.

When zebra mussels get into a lake they attach themselves to almost anything solid. Boat lifts, docks, buoys, hazard markers or anything else in the water. They will even attach to our native clams. They are very bad, and you don’t want them in your lake. They have very sharp shells that can cut the feet of human lake users.

In the early stages of reproduction they have what are called veligers. They are young zebra mussels that float around in the water and spread their kind in any direction the water flow will take them.

This is the stage where they are most likely transported from one lake to another. They can attach to a boat in their adult form, where they look like a small clam, and are easier to see and remove in this situation.

In the veliger stage you cannot see them with the human eye, and they can live in bait buckets and live wells of boats for long periods. It is in these areas that they can move lake to lake with little effort. The way to stop their spread is to make sure that you have no water in your boat to carry them around.

One method that is highly desired by many lake associations is the decontamination of every boat that moves from one lake to another every single time it moves. This is done by using a hot water high pressure washer to wash down the boat and kill by heat or remove by pressure all adults and veligers. Properly done, this can reduce their movements measurably. The coalition of lake associations just asked the Outdoor Heritage Fund for $25 million to purchase decontamination equipment for cities and units of government to place around the state.

This would include special lake sites for about 95 of the most used lakes in the state and regional decontamination stations elsewhere. I asked the presenter in a county like Nobles, with about 18,000 residents and 10 lakes within 15 miles, how many decontamination stations we would get. He responded with the answer of one.

So I posed this question: If we had 10 boats pulling out of each lake in the county at 9 p.m. at night on a Saturday, how many of those 100 boats would travel the 20 miles round trip to spray off their boats before they went home? I asked if it would be 100 percent, maybe 90 percent, or would the most likely answer be about 10 percent. He had no idea.

I asked if a different requester asked the council for $25 million to construct an electric barrier on the Mississippi River to stop the movement of Asian carp and said that it would be only 50-60 percent effective, would he still spend the money. He again had no real answer.

The Asian carp and zebra mussel problem is that the horse has already left the barn. These species are here and this is another very expensive attempt to slow then up with no hope of stopping them.

If spending the $25 million would keep some ( I repeat, some) lakes clear for an additional 2-5 years, would it be worth the money? Is is worth $50 million to keep them at bay for 5-7 years?

Remember that these dollars could be used for other pressing habitat problems around the state. In the end, with all of the private accesses and a guaranteed low compliance from boaters, washing a small percentage of boats is at best a feel-good measure. In the end, the only way to make this work is to mandate that every boat is washed every time it leaves a lake. Not a bad idea, but there is no way to implement such a plan.

Take a low volume lake around here and imagine the line. One other member of the council that works with me said that Minnesota is not ready for this change — that this change would alter the recreational boating life in Minnesota as citizens currently know it.

It will take a biological fix to somehow interrupt the zebra mussel life cycle to control them in future decades.

I would love your views on this issue as we meet to formalize our recommendations on Sept. 20. At present I have allocated my funds to other habitat needs in the state. My ears are open, so drop me a line at rall@knology.net and let me know what you think. The coalition of lake associations know what I think and they do not agree.

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