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Survey: Aquatic plants big nuisance for most MN lakes

Minnesota News Connection

Like in Wisconsin, aquatic invasive species are a problem for lakes in Minnesota.

If recent summers are an indication, Minnesotans will be out on the lakes in full force again this season. To keep lakes accessible and healthy, local groups and agencies are pouring in resources to manage aquatic plants. But can they keep up?

Aquatic plants are crucial to lake ecology, but the emergence of invasive varieties poses threats, and warming water temperatures make weeds grow in abundance, disrupting boating and swimming.

Kevin Farnum, aquatic invasive species manager for the Koronis Lake Association in Stearns County, Minnesota, said they have had to do things like taxing property owners to get a handle on certain species.

"Lake associations don't have a source of funding to do any kind of large management," Farnum pointed out. "To give you an idea, our management on Koronis, we could be spending up around $170,000 a year."

In a survey of the state's lake associations by Minnesota Lakes and Rivers Advocates, 74% said aquatic plants are a problem.

Grant opportunities are available through the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR), but some respondents want more even distribution of the grants. Others noted they have good relationships with agency officials, but most cited the need for greater efficiency in carrying out assistance and regulations.

Gordon Haubenschild, chairman of the Green Lake Improvement District in Itasca County, which has received a recent state grant for plant management, agreed the DNR is accessible, but noted like any large agency, there can be a cumbersome side to certain functions. He emphasized the importance of strong partnerships.

"If we neglect taking care of the treasures because of bureaucracy or, quote, 'other priorities,' then we will lose the treasure of enjoying lakes in Minnesota," Haubenschild emphasized.

Despite their efforts, only 34% of survey respondents said their aquatic plant environment has improved in the last five years.

Emily Gable, water resources specialist for Dakota County, said it is clear local leaders are trying to carve out solutions, based on increased competition for grants.

"We have more cities and lake associations aware that we have that funding," Gable explained. "And then again, we have that spread of invasive species. So, there's just more people looking for ways to manage those plants."

Mike Moen is a radio news reporter with nearly two decades of experience in the field. He has covered much of the upper Midwest, including Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin and the Dakotas. Many of his stories have aired nationally, including several public radio programs.
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