Curlyleaf continues to cause summer woes

Tuesday, June 20, 2017
Photo by Tom Gustafson

Boaters, swimmers and anglers were hopeful a major blow had been dealt to curlyleaf pondweed in East Lake Okoboji when an aquatic harvester cut paths through the thick, matted patches of the invasive plant in May. However, the weed is still causing problems for swimmers and boaters this month. It has clogged motors and brought summer fun to a standstill for some.

Representatives of Kuhlman Lake Service and Welding described their difficulty with the weed in East Okoboji, in a letter to the Iowa Great Lakes Association.

“We have had to pull our barge off of Upper East completely, leaving unfinished jobs and very unhappy customers,” the letter reads.

The letter said the company’s 14-foot-wide barge was unable to navigate the waters, and it’s motor would clog with curlyleaf every 50 feet or so. One of the company’s boats had become so clogged last year that the motor overheated and the engine block cracked, according to the letter. The letter points out how the weed’s presence in the lake is putting a strain on the business again this year, though not due to mechanical repairs.

“We now have people who have bought $10,000 to $15,000 lifts that we can’t install and they are very upset at us, even though they say they understand it is beyond our control,” the letter said. “We also have had numerous customers tell us that they are sick of their summer months, not being able to go boating, so they are going to buy the chemical themselves and dump it in if the DNR isn’t going to do anything about it.”

Photo by Tom Gustafson

Similar sentiments have reached the ears of the Dickinson County Board of Supervisors. Supervisor Tim Fairchild said he has heard from several residents who have taken to treating the weed themselves. Some of the council had heard rumblings of residents using weed killers, such as Round-Up, on the aquatic plant. Supervisor Pam Jordan stressed such use is illegal.

“It’s happening anyway,” Fairchild said. “My concern is, because I don’t want any chemicals in the lake, I think we should put chemicals in the lake.”

Fairchild clarified his position, saying the amount of chemical in the lake could possibly be diminished if it were to be applied by a professional or official entity.

“I’m wondering if we have any way of knowing at what point we would have less herbicide in our lake if we broadcast the whole lake — or whichever area’s effected — with the herbicide as the label on the chemicals suggest, as opposed to everyone throwing buckets off the end of their dock,” Fairchild said.

Some residents have taken to physically removing the weed from around their docks and having it hauled away. However, this has presented a problem for some, as permits from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources are required to transport aquatic vegetation. DNR Fisheries Biologist Mike Hawkins said state law currently prohibits the movement of aquatic invasive species on public roadways. He pointed out the curlyleaf pondweed, and other aquatic plants, are often encrusted with zebra muscles — another invasive species. The permits allow entities to transport potentially infested equipment, such as lifts and docks, from East Okoboji, West Okoboji, Minnewashta, Upper Gar and Lower Gar to and from an approved storage, service or disposal location via an approved route. Hawkins said the permits are often used by lake service providers in the fall to haul boat lifts and other equipment out of the lakes for storage or repair.

Hawkins confirmed curlyleaf pondweed is present throughout the Iowa Great Lakes. However in some lakes, conditions make the weed less apparent. Hawkins said the water in Big Spirit Lake is so deep, the weed may not quite reach the water’s surface to form problematic, dense patches.

“It is fairly ubiquitous across the lakes,” Hawkins said. “It’s all over the place. It has been. It’s been identified in surveys since the ‘50s.”

Some may not realize it, but Hawkins said the weed adds to water clarity in the Iowa Great Lakes by using nutrients that would otherwise contribute to the algae bloom and by dampening wave action that stirs up sediment from the lake bed. Curlyleaf also provides habitat for aquatic animals.

Hawkins said regions to both the north and south of Dickinson County are dealing with similar growth spurts of curlyleaf.

“It is kind of a regional event, where we’re seeing increases over the last few years,” Hawkins said.

He said his counterparts in Minnesota are reporting high levels of curlyleaf pondweed, but he said Minnesota officials have been dealing with the weed on a yearly basis, put management plans in place and have been treating the waters chemically.

County Supervisor Mardi Allen recalled the DNR’s willingness to apply aquatic herbicide in the past, as did Supervisor Jordan. However, Jordan indicated the public was not in favor of chemical usage.

“A year ago, he tried to get us to participate and the outcry was, ‘We don’t want to put chemicals in the lake,’” Jordan said.

Fairchild said the idea seemed like a bad one at the time, but said the current situation is problematic too. Allen said some members of the public had expressed support for county-level involvement. Fairchild said he would like to research other effects the herbicide might have before the county potentially takes action. He also noted the board would have to fund the effort somehow. Allen suggested funds could be put toward establishing an economic development fund. Board Chairman Bill Leupold agreed that a fund would perhaps be best in the long run.

“We don’t only have curlyleaf, there’s going to be more stuff coming, so we should have a fund built up so we can fight it,” Leupold said.

Fairchild said he might prefer the revenue be generated through property taxes.

“The only reason why is, anytime you raise the property taxes, it seems to me the main targets are people who have property around the lakes,” Fairchild said.

Allen had compared the county’s property tax values to several other Iowa counties, through the Iowa State Association of Counties website. Allen compared Dickinson, Cerro Gordo, Polk, Winneshiek and Clay County.

“Seventy-five percent of the taxable property in Dickinson County comes from residential — very unlike any other county in the state,” Allen said.

The charts showed Polk County’s residential taxable value at 63 percent, Cerro Gordo at 55 percent, Winneshiek at 48 percent and Clay at 36 percent. In Dickinson County, agricultural property was measured to be 9 percent of the property tax revenue. Allen said that number may change if residential property values drop locally.

“When you talk with an ag person, what if that has to change, because the values around the lake go down and you have to pay more of the tax revenue than you used to? That’s what will happen,” Allen said. “That’s what every other county looks like.”

She said many producers in Dickinson County are likely aware of that fact, since many own property in neighboring counties.

“I also don’t want residential property values to plummet and people (to) not build new homes because of curlyleaf pondweed,” Leupold said.

The board briefly considered scheduling another meeting with Hawkins to readdress the situation but took no formal action regarding county involvement in the curlyleaf issue.

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  • Our home and source of many family memories is in the upper corner of the bay in this picture. Sadly: more boats, more speed, more people, more boat lifts, more development, more run-off, more nitrate, more silt, more litter, more obstructed and compromised shore line, more invasive species...Iowa's Great Lakes are being loved to death. In turn, water quality and the "lake experience" suffer. Curlyleaf clearly provides some benefit, but striking a balance is a challenge.

    Current lake conditions and trends are economically and environmentally tragic and unsustainable. DNR cannot be blamed, nor can DNR entirely be relied on for the solution(s). Everyone who admires, uses and impacts this natural resource has a personal responsibility to use and enjoy it wisely.

    This picture may also be the canary in the coal mine indicating water quality concerns urgently needing attention throughout our State.

    -- Posted by gcgrupp on Wed, Jun 21, 2017, at 9:14 PM
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