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Boater education the key to preventing spread of aquatic invasive species

Stan Worm, left, vice president of the Kandiyohi County Lakes Association, hands out an automatic boat drain plug to Rosie Ericson during an informational meeting Wednesday about aquatic invasive species. The plug, which has been approved by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, automatically drains water from boats. More than 200 of the $40 plugs were given away Wednesday. (Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange)1 / 2
Donnie Lahr, who owns Digger Anchor in Sauk Centre, shows the Bailer-R-Matic boat plugs that he invented and that were given away Wednesday in New London. The plug that automatically drains water from boats has been approved by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to meet regulations aimed at reducing the spread of aquatic invasive species. (Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange)2 / 2

NEW LONDON -- Perhaps encouraged by the gradual ice-out on area lakes ahead of next weekend's fishing opener, more than 200 people attended a countywide meeting about aquatic invasive species Wednesday in the New London-Spicer High School cafeteria.

A unique boat plug with a retail value of $40 that was given away to participants may have also served as an incentive.

Whatever the reason for the good attendance, organizers with Kandiyohi County's Aquatic Invasive Species Task Force said the value of the meeting was having an opportunity to educate people about actions they can take to reduce the spread of invasive species like zebra mussels, curly pond leaf or Eurasian water milfoil and to prevent the introduction of new invasive species.

"You can make a difference," said Nick Brown, an employee with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. "This is a personal responsibility issue."

A collaborative effort between Kandiyohi County and the Middle Fork Crow River Watershed means new, vigorous efforts are being implemented to contain the spread of invasive species, like milfoil, that are already present in some lakes and to shield other lakes from being exposed.

So far, there have been no zebra mussels found in Kandiyohi County lakes.

Lakes in other nearby counties, however, have zebra mussels. Because it's common for Minnesotans to take their watercraft from lake to lake, invasive species can quickly spread without intervention.

In the next month, individuals will be trained by the DNR as Level 1 and Level 2 inspectors and will be stationed at some of Kandiyohi County's more than 50 lake accesses.

Inspectors will include four paid individuals -- likely college students -- who will work 32 hours a week, Thursday through Sunday, from May 24 to Sept. 1.

Volunteers are also being recruited to be trained and stationed at boat accesses this summer.

The inspectors will make thorough checks of boats before they are launched in county lakes to make sure there are no invasive species attached to the watercraft.

They will have the authority to deny entry into lakes, said Vanessa Glieden Henjum, watershed technician.

Level 2 inspectors will also be trained on how to decontaminate boats

Watercrafts that are turned away will be directed to decontamination units. The DNR will occasionally have one of their decontamination units in the county but a local company, Twin Lakes Services, also provides the service, which includes blasting boats with high-pressure water that's set at a scalding 140 degrees.

That's hot enough to kill adult zebra mussels, Brown said. It takes much less heat to kill the fragile microscopic zebra mussel larva.

Floor mats on the decontamination units will catch the water so it can be recycled and ensure that contaminated water doesn't get into lakes, he said.

Brown said it's vital that people who use public waters follow the laws designed to "contain and shield" lakes from invasive species.

One of those laws is that boat plugs are removed during transportation.

But on Wednesday free bailer plugs were given away that allow people to keep the plugs installed.

Invented by Donnie Lahr, from Digger Anchor of Sauk Centre, the unique plug lets water escape.

Brown said the DNR has said leaving this plug intact is legally OK because the water drains out.

Lahr said he developed the "Bail-R-Matic" plug about a year ago as a way to meet DNR requirements but prevent people from having to crawl into hard-to-reach places underneath boats to remove the plug.

The bailer plug is easy to use, Lahr said. "You don't have to do anything but put it in."

When a boat is in the lake, water pressure pushes the ball in the plug in place. When a boat is out of water the pressure is released and the water drains out.

The plugs are marketed at small and large stores, including Gander Mountain and Scheels.

The local AIS Task Force purchased 350 of the bailer plugs to give away as part of the education process.

Rick Reimer, chairman of the Task Force, said talking about invasive species is not about "pointing fingers" but about "enlightening" people about the serious consequences if people do not take care of the public waters.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750