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Fending off the biting menace: Willmar crews work to stay ahead of mosquitoes

Erica Dischino / Tribune A cold fogger machine on the back of a Willmar Public Works truck sprays chemical to keep the mosquitoes under control Wednesday at Robbins Island Park in Willmar.1 / 6
Erica Dischino / Tribune A Willmar Public Works truck sprays a fog-like chemical to keep the mosquitoes under control Wednesday at Robbins Island Park in Willmar. 2 / 6
Erica Dischino / Tribune Willmar Public Works Foreman Paul Tinklenberg flips a switch in his truck to start up the cold fogger machine that distributes chemical spray to keep mosquitoes under control.3 / 6
Erica Dischino / Tribune Foreman Paul Tinklenberg drives a Willmar Public Works truck Wednesday in Robbins Island Park in Willmar to spray for mosquitoes. 4 / 6
Erica Dischino / Tribune A Willmar Public Works truck sprays a fog-like chemical to keep the mosquitoes under control Wednesday at Robbins Island Park in Willmar. 5 / 6
Shelby Lindrud / Tribune Paul Tinklenberg, Willmar Public Works foreman, said the city sprays for mosquitoes five to eight times a season, depending on mosquito population and weather.6 / 6

WILLMAR — They are the bane of nearly every outdoor activity during Minnesota's beloved summer months, sometimes causing people to run for cover.

In an attempt to get ahead of the buzzing and biting pest that is the mosquito, Willmar Public Works undertakes preventative measures and also sprays to try to keep the insects under control.

"We are doing this, to me, for quality of life," said Willmar Public Works Foreman Paul Tinklenberg.

There is also a public health aspect to the city's mosquito program as the pests can be carriers of illnesses like West Nile virus.

"West Nile virus is a serious threat to our health. That is another reason to spray for mosquitoes," Tinklenberg said.

This year the city has already sprayed twice, with a third scheduled, using an adulticide called Anvil 2+2 Ultra Low Volume. The chemical is sprayed out in a fine mist behind a public works truck — a process known as cold fogging. Two trucks take two evenings to spray along nearly every mile of the 132 miles of streets in town.

"That kills on contact," Tinklenberg said. "We try to hit every street."

While the spring was mostly clear of large swarms of mosquitoes, the constant rains and the humidity the area has seen the past several weeks have helped the population skyrocket, requiring nearly back-to-back sprayings.

"Timing is everything," Tinklenberg said.

Willmar's battle against the mosquito begins early in the season, when the city treats mosquito breeding grounds, usually ponds of standing water, with a larvicide called Natular. This stops the eggs from hatching.

"This helps us out tremendously," Tinklenberg said.

Throughout the summer, Public Works staff members keep an eye on the mosquito population by doing at least weekly checks at four sites across the city, which include Robbins Island and Baker Field. The test is literally someone standing outside and seeing how many mosquitoes come out to feed on them.

"Too many is you stand out at a site and you get attacked," Tinklenberg said.

The city is licensed by the Department of Agriculture to spray for mosquitoes and six Public Works staff are licensed to do the work. The licenses are renewed every two years.

The chemicals used in the operation are deemed safe by the government. Only a few ounces of the chemical are used per acre, according to the manufacturer Clarke, and it dissipates rapidly.

Tinklenberg said the city sprays only when necessary.

"We don't take spraying chemicals into the air lightly," Tinklenberg said.

Another reason the city wants to make sure spraying is done only when necessary is cost: One application of the chemical costs around $4,000 and that doesn't include the labor or equipment costs.

Willmar sprays an estimated five to eight times a year, depending on the weather and mosquito population.

"Spraying is expensive," Tinklenberg said.

While using both larvicide and adulticide can improve mosquito eradication efforts, Tinklenberg warned there are things out of Public Works' control. For one, they can't control the weather, which has a dramatic effect on mosquito populations. Second, Public Works cannot treat or spray on private property.

To help, residents and business owners can make sure they are not offering prime real estate for mosquitoes to breed, such as pools, bird baths or old tires.

"Any little depression where water collects" and stands stagnant, Tinklenberg said.

The public can be sure the Public Works crew is doing all it can to help make summer even more enjoyable.

"We take it very seriously when we do it," Tinklenberg said.