Just a few long, dangling, slightly boring lake weeds.
“We always called it spaghetti weed,” said Smith, who is spending the summer on Lake Irene for the 10th time.
Two or three years ago, however, the weed started to get out of hand in the 642-acre lake just northwest of Miltona. Residents found themselves scratching big balls of them on their shores and untangling them from the engines of their boats.
Smith joined a handful of lakefront owners – “Four bubbas on the beach,” joked one of them, Bob Strawn – who decided to take it on. What they found was that it was not a native plant, as many had speculated, but an invasive plant called a curly-leaved pondweed that MNR authorized to spray. Native plants, such as coontail and bigleaf pondweed, provide important food and habitat for native fish, waterfowl, and other creatures. The Curly Pondweed is not one of their species and will actually hunt native plants.
He also threatened to drive out the landowners, who disliked cleaning up the tangled mass of their shores.
“I did this homework for four years and then I said to the guys, either we fix this weed problem or we sell our cabin,” Strawn said. “We had a real estate agent this spring to give us an appraisal.… I was very serious. I wasn’t about to end my life with a heart attack by cleaning the CLP off the beach.”
While the four neighbors were talking, someone else on the shore was worried about the mysterious grass.
“We’ve always had weeds to a point, but nothing like it,” said Marcie Vickerman, who has owned a lot on Lake Irene since 1989. “We have a jet ski and that would be like a carpet, just a wall of weeds a few hundred yards from our house and we really had to shoot it to get over it or it would get into your engine. ”
Lake Irene is not the only lake in the region dealing with the Curly-leaved Pondweed. Osakis Lake is too, and residents are taking steps to form a Lake Improvement District to raise money to spray.
Vickerman and some neighbors also approached the DNR to find solutions, and the DNR advised all neighbors to come together to tackle the problem. A resident gathered the addresses of residents in the targeted area and together the neighbors knocked on doors and sent emails and letters. They had to get permission from each owner to spray the weeds in front of their shoreline, and all but one of the neighbors gave permission, they said. So they couldn’t spray within 150 feet of its shore.
Mark Ranweiler, an invasive species specialist with MNR who has assisted landowners on Lake Irene, said individual owners often ask permission to spray the area in front of their homes, but they rarely get together. unofficially, and that this is the first time he’s heard of it in the dozen west-central Minnesota counties he covers.
“Most of the time it’s through a lake association or a Lake Improvement District,” he said.
Because they have come together and plan to tackle the problem in the years to come, they have been allowed to spray more acres than they otherwise would have. Normally, the DNR will only spray 15% of the area where the weed is growing, in order to protect native plants. In this case, it would have been 36 acres. However, MNR allowed them to spray 51 acres and will work with them to create a formal, written lake vegetation management plan.
MNR does not have the funds to treat weeds in all lakes, so the cost of spraying falls on the lake owners, unless they are able to secure subsidies.
Treating the Curly-leaved Pondweed can be expensive, depending on how deep the water it is in, so organizers were unsure if everyone who lives on the lake could afford the cost, which was supposed to be $ 700. at $ 1,000 per landowner. Several families offered to fund the project, Strawn said, although the cost was much lower than expected, at $ 28,000, and was further reduced by a $ 11,000 grant from Douglas County. The organizers were able to pay for everything with voluntary contributions.
Curly-leaved pondweed can only be sprayed in early spring, as it begins to grow before native plants. It was done this spring, using a herbicide called Endothall. The US EPA says Endothall is safe in drinking water at low levels, and residents are now happy to boating and jet skiing on their side of the lake.
“I’m very proud of the way the two groups worked together,” said Steve Kettler, who has been coming to the lake for 15 years and now lives there year round. About 77 owners signed on to the project, which he described as “quite astonishing in today’s world”.
Kettler is seeking a place on the Lake Association’s board of directors, as is Vickerman, as some members have retired or moved. Even though the loose group of neighbors may have achieved their goal, everyone would like to see the Lake Irene Preservation Association involved.
“It has to be part of an organized structure,” Kettler said. “We know it’s not a one-size-fits-all thing; you have to have a consistent approach.… You’re going to have people coming and going from the lake as people get older. You want a consistent approach to weed management on the lake. Lake. “
In the past, the lake association has focused on stocking walleye and hosting a pork chop feed, President Clément Suchy said. However, he thinks the lake association could take care of weed spraying in the future, as long as everyone contributes to the cost. His own lakeside has been sprayed with everyone this year, and he appreciates the absence of weeds, although he said there is now an unsightly mud that reminds him of the ring around a water tank for livestock.
He hopes someone from the DNR will attend their annual meeting in August and can identify the mud.
“You wouldn’t want to swim in it, I can tell you that,” he said.
Lake residents say there is now a distinct difference between the side that was sprayed and the side that was not. Jason Cook, who lives on the untreated west side, said the weeds were so bad that people in the boat parade couldn’t even get close enough to toss candy at the kids on the docks.
“They need a cannon to get to our dock,” said Cook, who bought a cabin on Lake Irene in 2010. If the lake looked what it looks like now, then he and his wife would have had problems. doubts about buying there, he said. He is worried not only about the impact on human circulation, but also on waterfowl, as he has seen ducks and geese struggling when swimming in them.
He would be open to efforts to control the pondweed, he said.
One question is why the curly-leaved pondweed got so bad two or three years ago. Some locals suspect that these are zebra mussels, which have also invaded their lake, and which are known to clean up the water, which helps plants to grow. However, the DNR also indicates that nutrients may be a cause, carried there by heavy rains or human activities like building roads or houses.
Regardless, neighbors were alarmed by the increase and feared the problem would worsen in the years to come. Those on the south and southeast side of the lake say they believe there will be general pressure among all lake owners to tackle the problem.
“People on this side of the lake are absolutely thrilled. We don’t have a weed problem on our side of the lake, ”Strawn said. “Four bubbas on the beach decided that we were going to do something and we went together and did it.