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Kandiyohi County continues to wage war against aquatic invasive species

In 2021, Kandiyohi County aquatic invasive species inspectors found more than 200 violations at the boat launches of county lakes. The work is done in hopes of stopping, or at least slowing, the spread of aquatic invasive species, which can have a negative impact on the health of area lakes.

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Watercraft inspector Robert Hinderks checks a boat for weeds and other forms of invasive species before it is taken out on the water on Green Lake in Spicer in July 2019. Kandiyohi County continues to work to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species, conducting inspections and working for public education. Erica Dischino file photo / West Central Tribune
Erica Dischino

WILLMAR — Despite a shortage of trained inspectors, Kandiyohi County was able to stop 230 violations of the state's aquatic invasive species rules at boat launches of several county lakes this year. Any one of those violations, if the boats had reached the water, could have led to increased spread of aquatic invasive species, which are known to have a negative impact on the ecosystems of the lake.

"We did catch a good number of violations this year," said Russ Hilbert, county AIS coordinator. Hilbert gave his annual report and work plan for 2022 to the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners during the Dec. 21 meeting.

Most of those violations were caught on boats coming to a lake.

"Most of it was water," such as water left in a live well or in the bilge area of the boat, said Hilbert. That water, maybe from a different lake, could have been carrying small pieces of an invasive weed or zebra mussel larva. One hundred and eighty boats arrived with water, and there were also 56 watercraft arriving with plants and 112 arrived with the drain plug in.

Throughout the boating season, from May 19 to Sept. 15, the county deploys inspectors to the most popular lakes in Kandiyohi County, to catch violations and educate boaters on the importance of slowing the spread of AIS . All totaled, there were 4,452 inspector staffed hours and 9,107 inspections at 19 boat launches at 12 lakes in 2021.

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There were 17 inspectors hired, though Hilbert said the number is a bit deceptive. One inspector lasted only a day and eight others didn't stay the entire season.

"We were very short-staffed this year," Hilbert said, adding it has been difficult to find enough people to fill the open inspector slots.

The reduction in staff meant the county was able to operate only one of its boat decontamination units, which cleans boats and other watercraft at launches. There were 160 decontaminations completed in 2021.

In addition to the inspections, the county program also works to educate the public on aquatic invasive species. This includes radio ads, marketing at county gas stations, public service announcements on community television and visits to schools.

Due to the pandemic, those efforts were curtailed a bit, as Randy Fredrickson, an independent educator with whom the county contracts for aquatic invasive species education, was able to visit only New London-Spicer Schools.

The AIS program also grants money to community groups that are working on prevention and management. In 2021, $46,777 was granted to help pay for school-age educational programming, treatment of curly-leaf pondweed and Eurasian watermilfoil and lake surveys.

Another aspect of the county's program is the I-Lids sentry units , or motion-activated camera systems, at 10 lake accesses in the county. When a watercraft is launched into or loaded out of the lake, the camera records the action. At the same time an audio recording plays, reminding boaters of the AIS rules. The goal is to both educate and act as another level of surveillance. However, the equipment hasn't worked as well as was originally hoped. This past year, only one violation was found by the sentry units.

"They're probably not doing a whole lot for us," Hilbert said, as face-to-face communication and inspections have a better return than the units.

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Hilbert said he recommended discontinuing the program, but the county AIS task force decided against that. The lake associations paid for half of the operational expenses of eight of the units in 2021, and are being asked to do so again in 2022, Hilbert said.

For 2021, the county received approximately $247,000 in funding for the AIS program, but spent only $198,735. The remaining $48,000 will go into the program's contingency fund to be used for the future.

"We are planning to use some of that," Hilbert said.

For 2022, the county's AIS work plan is similar to years past. The hope is to hire 22 to 24 inspectors to work at at least eight lakes, though Hilbert expects it will be just as hard, if not harder, to find workers.

Hilbert also wants to be able to use both of the county's decontamination units during the 2022 season and find a way to be more efficient when advertising the use of those units. The county is expecting to receive around $246,000 in funding for the program. The board approved the resolution accepting the 2022 work plan and the funding.

"We'll try to make the best use of it as we can," Hilbert said.

zebra mussels
A heavy coat of zebra mussels covers boats lifts that were removed from Green Lake in Spicer in fall 2015, a year after the species were found in the lake. In 2021 there are 12 county lakes infested with at least one aquatic invasive species such as zebra mussels or Eurasian watermilfoil. Carolyn Lange file photo / West Central Tribune
West Central Tribune/Forum Commu

Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.

She can be reached via email slindrud@wctrib.com or direct 320-214-4373.


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