Divers attack milfoil scourge

Observer photo by Jess Wisloski A worker for AB Aquatics forks milfoil into an onboard strainer at Lake Iroquois Monday morning.
Observer photo by Jess Wisloski
A worker for AB Aquatics forks milfoil into an onboard strainer at Lake Iroquois Monday morning.

By Jess Wisloski

Observer staff

On Monday morning, a team of professional milfoil harvesters set upon Lake Iroquois in a specially rigged party boat, armed with a professional diver and pitchfork, to pull the invasive species Eurasian watermilfoil out of a northwest channel of the lake.

The company contracted to do the work, New Hampshire-based AB Aquatics, has three staff members on board, and will be moving around the area in their canopied vessel for at least the next two weeks cleaning up the area near the boat launch off Beebe Lane. The goal is to thin out or eliminate the stranglehold the weed has on the lake, and keep it from spreading further south to other areas across the lake.

Whether or not the pricy procedure, called Diver-Assisted Suction Harvesting (or DASH), will work for Iroquois is yet to be seen. According to Roger Crouse, founding president of the Lake Iroquois Association, who has been working on milfoil remediation efforts, the process costs $15,000 to do one channel at the fishing access ramp area, for a distance of 200 feet.

Two men stood on the deck of the anchored AB Aquatics boat Monday afternoon, which had a loud power turbine running on it with hoses, similar to those on a central vacuum cleaner, floating out on the surface of the water leading up to an orange ball. The ball marked where the diver worked, hand-pulling milfoil by the root system and feeding it into the tube. On the boat, the milfoil was being discharged into a straining colander, set into a big bucket on the deck so that sediment and water flows out of it, and then the weeds were raked into mesh bags and stacked on the deck. At least eight mesh bags were piled up when a reporter kayaked by mid-afternoon. A third worker appeared to be recording information and taking notes on a clipboard. When asked what they did with the piles of milfoil, the man with the rake said “random things. It doesn’t matter, we just get rid of it. We’ve heard it makes great compost, with all those nutrients.”

The CEO for the firm, Bob Patterson, couldn’t be reached immediately for official comment on the work at Iroquois. The boat will be on the lake at least through Aug. 19.

Observer photo by Jess Wisloski Milfoil clouds the water at Lake Iroquois in the northwest channel.
Observer photo by Jess Wisloski
Milfoil clouds the water at Lake Iroquois in the northwest channel.

Milfoil’s murky story

In recent years, the weed has taken hold of the lake floor, after first being introduced in 1989, according to Crouse. While Pat Suozzi, the Lake Iroquois Association’s current president, said the growth of new milfoil seems to have been kept at bay, the lake’s still got areas where it’s so thick it prevents fish from thriving, and portions of the lake from being enjoyed by boaters and swimmers. The association, or LIA, is an advocacy group for the watershed made up of local residents and lakefront property owners.

In a release issued by LIA, the organization noted that the suction harvesting would not solve the invasive species problems, but was part of a larger, multi-step initiative that would take longer than just two weeks.

“This method will not completely solve the milfoil problem,” the statement, put out Monday, said. “Rather it is a part of a many- pronged effort to reduce and manage this invasive.”

While advising local residents that waving at the DASH team was okay, the release asked everyone to “please keep your distance” by staying back at least 200 feet for the safety of the diver, whose location is marked by the bright orange ball and also don’t speak to them while they are working. “They can’t really hear you very well and for safety reasons they need to stay focused on the work… if you would like to talk with the crew, they expect to be unloading at the fishing access around 2:30 or 3 in the afternoon” the release noted.

In the release, LIA leadership also listed other efforts that are in process to prevent further proliferation of milfoil in the lake. These include:

The ‘Greeter Program,’ in which boats entering and leaving the lake are checked for invasives and cleaned, if necessary

Projects to reduce nutrients entering the lake (which feeds the growth of milfoil) by mitigating nutrient-laden runoff

Education of lakeshore property owners and lake users in best management practices

Creation of no-mow zones and riparian (riverbank) buffers to prevent nutrient runoff into the lake

Monitoring and stream remediation to reduce sediment and nutrients carried into the lake via its tributaries

Suozzi also noted that a boat wash station, which is mentioned as being in place on a sign posted at the fishing access and which had been projected for completion by July of this year, has since been delayed.

“Several issues have arisen that I just learned about today, so it looks like it will be somewhat delayed again,” she told the Observer in an email Tuesday.

Boaters interested in cleaning off their boats before or after use in the lake should do a thorough washdown with hot (150 degrees F) water before entering or using another body of water. “It is also important to empty any water out of a vessel (such as bilge tanks),” Suozzi added.

Solution anything but clear

Lake Iroquois leaders have also taken the added step of readying to ask the state for a permit to use Renovate (triclopyr) — an herbicide used to control woody plants and annual and perennial broadleaf weeds, according to a report on the website for California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation — in certain areas of the lake.

“We have not yet submitted that application and I’m not sure exactly when it will go in to the state,” Suozzi said, but if issued, the permit would allow the LIA to use it for application of the chemical for up to five years.

Lake Dunmore, according to its association’s website, had hired DASH boats to help with the milfoil epidemic on the lake seven years ago, and 22 years ago, in 1994, had even used divers to pull the milfoil plants out with great success. After a flood in 2008, there was a substantial increase in growth, however, and the divers alone couldn’t keep up with other exponential jumps in 2009 and 2012.

“Growth continued, and by 2015, the team had grown to four vacuum harvesting machines, a small service boat and a crew of 17 working 240 hours a week,” the site noted. All the while, the cost of the program ballooned, from $25,000 in the first year, to $125,000 in 2012,” noted the association’s website.

In late June, after the state approved its permit in May to use the herbicide Renovate, Lake Dunmore applied the treatment at a cost of around $95,000, the Addison Independent reported.

According to a report by association member Cab Hatfield, Dunmore’s North Cove had already seen improvements and was “seeing only native plants on the bottom” while paddling his canoe around July 27, he posted on the group’s Facebook page.

“Many, many thanks to all those involved in the permit process and herbicide application. It worked well and even exceeded our expectations! No milfoil! Hurray!”

“Like everyone else around this part of Lake Dunmore, I’m basking in the glow of a milfoil-free cove, but let’s not forget that it is still out there, at large in the lake and will fragment, spread and re-infest,” Hatfield wrote.

Suozzi said that any permit issued by the state is reviewed by the Department of Environmental Conservation, and is subject to a public comment period and concerned parties could request a full hearing if they wanted one at that time, the Addison Independent reported.

“Our thinking is to submit the application. If it is granted, we would then have it in hand and could work in if/when it would make sense to use this,” she said.

In the meantime, she said those residents near the lake could reach out to attend an upcoming information session Aug. 14 regarding the DASH boat, and she encouraged financial and volunteer support. “[It] will make a difference in protecting and enhancing this wonderful resource,” she said.