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Channeling ideas about zebras

Echo Press photo by Lowell Anderson Restrictions are being considered on this channel between Lakes Geneva, Victoria.

Dave Rush and Nathan Olson were expecting a larger crowd Friday evening.

Rush, the Douglas County Land and Resource director, and Olson, an invasive species specialist with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), presented information at two community input meetings on zebra mussels and the proposed plan to restrict the channels between Lakes Cowdry and Darling and Lakes Geneva and Victoria.

The first meeting took place Friday evening at the LaGrand Town Hall and the second meeting took place Monday night at Discovery Middle School.

Friday's meeting boasted only a couple dozen people, five of which were Douglas County commissioners. Olson noted in an e-mail that between 60-65 people attended Monday's meeting.

Olson began Friday's meeting with some general information about zebra mussels, including that they were first discovered in June 2009 in Lake L'Homme Dieu and since that time have been found in Lakes Geneva and Carlos.

Because these lakes are part of the chain of lakes, a total of seven lakes have now been designated as infested waters after the first discovery. The lakes included are L'Homme Dieu, Jessie, Victoria, Geneva, Carlos, Darling and Alvin.

"It's been very surprising to see how abundant they've become," Olson told the small group Friday evening.

He explained that the negative impacts from zebra mussels include the fact that they are filter feeders and will out compete small fish for food. They are also very prolific, can suffocate and starve native mussels, can impede recreation and also block intake pipes.

However, Olson noted that zebra mussels are not a death sentence to a lake, but the public will see a big change.

Rush added, "Zebra mussels aren't going to kill your lakes. The lakes aren't going to become poison overnight."

Rush, who has had first-hand experience with zebra mussels, grew up in Pennsylvania near the St. Lawrence River, which by the late 1980s, he said, was infested with zebra mussels.

"Every hard surface you looked at was nothing but zebra mussels. They were on everything," he told the crowd, adding that they may be surprised to see how fast the zebra mussels can spread. "It's very, very, very inconvenient. You'll be scraping off your lake pumps four times a year."

Since the first infestation of zebra mussels, the DNR has stepped up its education of this aquatic invasive species; added additional watercraft inspections, which it will continue to do this summer; worked with the Douglas County Lakes Association (DCLA); and conducted training for lake service providers and DNR officers, and more.

The restricting of the two channels is just one more way the DNR feels it can help stop the spread of the zebra mussels.

The proposal states that all watercraft (with a few exceptions) are prohibited from traversing the two channels from one lake to another and/or navigating past points in the channels as marked pursuant to state rule by the Douglas County Sheriff's Office. The exceptions to the restrictions include non-motorized canoes, kayaks, paddle boats, inflatable rafts nine feet in length or less and float tubes.

The channel between Lakes Cowdry and Darling would be marked at the upper-most part of the channel where the water leaves Lake Cowdry, indicating that watercraft may not enter or leave Lake Cowdry.

As part of the proposal, Rush noted that if the DNR positively identifies the presence of zebra mussels in either Lakes Cowdry or Victoria, the Douglas County Board will take action at the earliest scheduled public meeting to repeal the restriction for only the lake where the infestation has occurred.

When talking about channel restrictions, Olson gave an example of a channel between Lake Ossawinnamakee and Kimball Creek near Brainerd. He noted that since the restriction on the channel was put in place, which was in 2004, there have been no zebra mussels in Lake Kimball.

That restriction, he added, won't be like the ones proposed in Douglas County. The Douglas County channel restrictions will use buoys and significant signage, not boulders placed in the water like in Brainerd.

Both Rush and Olson stressed that they realize restricting boat traffic is not a guarantee, nor is it a permanent fix, but it's one more thing that can be done in the fight to curb the spread of this invasive species.

"There is no cure for zebra mussels. We are not going to get rid of them. We know that," said Olson.

Bonnie Huettl from the Douglas County Lakes Association spoke at the meeting. She noted that the DCLA has been working diligently on the zebra mussel problem. Members have hosted meetings; talked on the radio; hosted service and officer patrol training; applied for and received grants to help pay for extra watercraft inspectors; placed radio and newspaper ads; attended seminars; and more.

"We are doing a lot of work behind the scenes," Huettl said. "It may seem like we are quiet, but we're not."

Olson commended the DCLA for all of its work on the zebra mussel problem.

Rush explained the process for implementing channel restrictions, which will require a public hearing. That meeting has been set for 10 a.m. on Tuesday, May 25 as part of the Douglas County Board's regularly scheduled meeting.

At Friday night's meeting, there was not a lot of opposition about closing the channel between Lakes Cowdry and Darling.

Olson noted, however, that there was much concern Monday about the channel restriction between Lakes Geneva and Victoria.

He also noted that at Monday night's meeting, the Cowdry, Taylor, Stony and Union Lake's Association expressed its support for the Cowdry/Darling channel restriction and that it hopes the channel restrictions will be considered separately.