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St. Louis County set to dole out funds to fight aquatic invaders

The St. Louis County Board is scheduled to approve $670,000 to fight aquatic invasive species at its upcoming meeting Tuesday. The state money will be distributed to several local groups to fund efforts to keep Eurasian water milfoil, zebra musse...

Zebra mussels
A stick covered with zebra mussels — one of the aquatic invasive species St. Louis County is fighting with its distribution of state funds. News Tribune file photo

The St. Louis County Board is scheduled to approve $670,000 to fight aquatic invasive species at its upcoming meeting Tuesday.

The state money will be distributed to several local groups to fund efforts to keep Eurasian water milfoil, zebra mussels, spiny water fleas, rusty crayfish and ever more destructive invaders out of Northern Minnesota waters.

"When you look at what's out there, we all know the main ones," said Commissioner Paul McDonald. "But at Lake Koronis in southern Minnesota (Paynesville), starry stonewort has infested that lake and it's as ugly as anyone would want to see. It gets rid of swimming and boating. We've got to keep that one out of here. It can be deadly to lakes."

McDonald, of Ely, represents the 4th District, which features several of the lakes which benefit from the state's Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention Aid program.

"It's huge for us," he said. "When you look at the lake associations that have been at this from the beginning, they've been at the forefront as we try to limit what happens to our beautiful lakes."

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The North St. Louis Soil and Water Conservation District will receive $378,000 to manage watercraft inspections and the operation of decontamination units on Lake Vermilion, as well as Burntside, Shagawa, Pelican and Ely lakes.

"The main goal is educating people about aquatic invasive species," said Emily Nelson, aquatic invasive species program coordinator for the soil and water district.

The soil and water district has received more than $1 million over the life of the program, which was established during the 2014 legislative session.

In addition to funding inspections, the soil and water district has used the money to purchase hot-water, high-pressure decontamination units and expand the inspection process into private resorts.

In 2018, 19 private resorts on Lake Vermilion and Pelican Lake totaled 6,566 inspections - with part of the funding coming from other sources. There were also 546 decontamination events using what are five hot-water, high-pressure units throughout the soil and water district. A decontamination takes 10-20 minutes and is conducted by someone with Minnesota Department of Natural Resources training, Nelson explained. Oftentimes, it's the inspector who triggers and conducts the decontamination.

"We're teaching people how to inspect their own boats because inspectors can't be at every access," Nelson said. "It's getting better. People are learning that their actions make a difference in the prevention of aquatic invasive species."

McDonald said the county would like to expand future inspections to Lake Kabetogama.

"We need the people at the state legislature who allocate the money to keep coming through and increasing dollars so we can branch out to other, different lakes," McDonald said. "Getting up to Lake Kabetogama, that's next on the horizon."

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McDonald called the statewide program "cutting-edge" and a win-win for the way it educates people and provides seasonal jobs for a lot of college students and even retirees.

"When you have change, it takes time," McDonald said. "We're moving in the right direction."

The following are grants scheduled for approval by the County Board on Tuesday:

• $16,000 to Burntside Lake Association for inspection training and promotion;

• $15,000 to Canosia Township for inspections and containment of zebra mussel population;

• $10,000 to city of Duluth for decontamination station on Munger landing on St. Louis River;

• $60,000 to Community Action Duluth for its phragmites eradication program on the St. Louis River;

• $17,000 to Grand Lake Township for inspections and zebra mussel containment on Caribou Lake;

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• $378,000 to North St. Louis County Soil and Water Conservation District for continues inspections and decontaminations on Lake Vermillion and Burntside, Shagawa, Pelican and Ely lakes;

• $50,000 to St. Louis County for reserve funds to address urgent needs;

• $36,000 to Vermillion Lake Association for inspections and more;

• $75,000 to Wildlife Forever for aquatic invasive species awareness campaign;

There were 12 local applicants this year for the annual funding. Applications totaled $1.03 million, and St. Louis County was allocated $710,820 out of a statewide $10 million. Subtracting administrative costs yields the final total of $657,000 to be distributed to the nine programs selected from within St. Louis County.

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