Herald JournalHerald Journal, Sept. 12, 2005

The battle against milfoil continues

Liz Hellmann
Staff Writer

As the afternoon sun sinks lower into the sky, Rod Werner, Berwyn Schmidt, and Don Stevenson set out, for the second night in a row, to do battle with a creature of the lake.

They are not going fishing, although they would like to be.

Rather, they are spreading chemicals in an attempt to control the lake weed Eurasian watermilfoil.

The weed spreads quickly along the shoreline, creating a foil on the top of the water.

They know they can’t get rid of it completely, but they hope to control it.

“What we did last year cleaned it up pretty good, but it’s continuous,” Werner said.

Eurasian milfoil is a problem because it can choke out native plants and disturb the lake’s ecosystem.

The weed grows from the shoreline out to about eight feet deep. It takes root in the bottom of the lake, and then grows submersed until it reaches the top.

The submersed weeds pose a problem for swimmers, who can get tangled up in them.

“There is so much of it in the water, but you just can’t see it,” Werner said.

As the weeds grow closer to the top, they also can become tangled in boat propellers.

To control it, Werner, Schmidt, and Stevenson obtained a permit to spread a chemical on invested areas from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) through the Howard Lake Watershed Alliance.

The chemical recommended by the DNR is 24D Navigate. It is not supposed to be harmful to the native plants in the lake, the fish, or to humans.

“The biologist I got it from likened it to spraying dandelions on your lawn,” Werner said.

To spread the chemical, Werner attached a spreader he had originally bought for his four-wheeler to the side of his pontoon with wooden planks.

As they drive along the shoreline, through the infested waters, they empty bags of chemicals into the spreader.

The chemical is in pellet form, and looks like sand.

“It comes in pellets so they can sink to the bottom, and get to the roots,” Schmidt said.

The chemical needs to make contact with the root system for 14 hours to kill the plant. Results are usually visible within four to six weeks.

Ideally, the lake should be treated twice a year, but it is expensive.

Each 50-pound bag costs $170. The DNR recommends spreading 150 to 200 pounds of chemical per acre.

The City of Howard Lake supplied funds for the chemicals last year and this year. The Lions Club also helped, and they raised some money through fundraising.

But the DNR only gave one permit to the Howard Lake Watershed Alliance, and allowed them to only treat six acres, the three public access areas.

Last year, the DNR gave them permission to treat 10 acres.

If they want to treat the whole lake, including the shore line along private property, the owners must obtain individual permits.

Each permit is $35, plus the cost for the chemicals. But Werner feels it is necessary.

“It would be solid out to eight feet, all along the shoreline, if we didn’t do this,” Werner said.

Because the weeds can grow from small parts that have broken off, it doesn’t work to try to pull them. Fragments will break off, fall to the lake floor, and take root, forming a new plant.

Eurasian milfoil was brought over to North America from Europe. It was introduced to Minnesota sometime between the 1950s and 1980s.

It spreads from lake to lake by parts of the weed attaching to boats. If the boats are not cleaned off, the weed will be transferred to the next lake.

“It spreads like wildfire,” Schmidt said.

Although the plant can’t be eradicated, Stevenson said he could already see a difference from treating the lake last summer, pointing to several spots where large mats of milfoil from last year were gone.

“If we can control the big patches and learn to fish in it, it’ll be OK,” Werner said.

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