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Editorial - You can help turn the tide against zebra mussel invasion

News that zebra mussels were found in Lake Victoria isn't all that shocking. Because the mussels were found in other lakes on the chain, many thought it would only be a matter of time before this threat deepened its invasion.

It shouldn't be that way. Now is not the time for complacency.

It's time for action. This is a war we've got to win, one with very high stakes on the line - the quality of not just lakes in our area but throughout the entire state.

Some seem to feel that there's nothing we can do about invasive threats like zebra mussels, Eurasion watermilfoil, curly leaf pondweed and such. The problem is too hard to contain, they say, that it isn't that big of a deal, that it'd be too expensive.

That's like giving up without a fight.

There are things that can be done. But it will take a united, concentrated effort from everyone - lake associations, local governments, the state, boat owners, businesses, sportsmen and everyday Minnesotans - to turn the tide.

The Minnesota Seasonal Recreational Property Owners Association submitted an excellent commentary on the topic that was printed in the January 13 issue of the Star Tribune. The association pointed out that state funding in the battle against aquatic invasive species (AIS) hovers at about $4 million annually. That's a paltry amount in the state's $30 billion budget, especially when the vitality of our lakes is at stake.

It gets worse. There is no coordinated plan among agencies and no reliable funding for the future. Law enforcement is inadequately trained in AIS issues (not necessarily here, but statewide) and the penalties, according to the association, are "woefully lax." An example: Someone who is caught poaching deer faces fines of thousands of dollars, perhaps even jail time. Someone who carelessly transports zebra mussels into another lake - which can cost potentially billions of dollars - faces a slap on the wrist.

Lake associations are trying to win this war. But they can't do it alone. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources should be on the front lines of this but it's not doing enough. With a budget of more than $900 million for 2010-2011, it should divert more attention, more funding, more resources to keeping lakes free from AIS.

The money is there. In the last two years, the state has collected $457 million through a voter-approved sales tax increase known as the Legacy Amendment, which is partly earmarked to protect lakes. The war against zebra mussels and other AIS should be priority number one.

All Minnesotans need to make it clear to their local and state leaders that invasive threats to our lakes must be contained and mitigated. There are promising signs: At candidate forums sponsored by the League of Women Voters, the AIS threat ranked second on a list of priorities, trailing only budget topics.

There's still time to win this war. It will take a genuine commitment from the Legislature. It should enact laws this session that aggressively address the AIS problem. More funding must be directed toward research, awareness and enforcement.

As the Minnesota Seasonal Recreational Property Owners Association pointed out: All who love our lakes should join this chorus. The association ended its plea with this chilling statement: "If we don't act now, we will soon look back and tell our children about a time when it was possible to swim in Minnesota's lakes without getting tangled in milfoil or lacerated by zebra mussel shells."

Echo Press editorials are the position of the newspaper's editorial board, which includes Jody Hanson, publisher; Al Edenloff, editor; and news reporter, Celeste Beam.