Sandpoint begins milfoil treatment plan

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SANDPOINT — Thanks to a little financial help from several institutions, the city is ready to kick off its treatment plan for invasive aquatic weeds.

City Beach and Windbag Marina are due to receive much-needed attention on Monday to counter the invasion of Eurasian milfoil. Rather than using herbicides, however, the cleanup crew will employ a mix of manual techniques to keep chemicals out of the lake.

The bulk of the work on Monday will involve divers descending underwater to uproot the weeds by hand. Bottom barriers, or large black tarps that block off vast sections of weeds from sunlight, are another non-herbicide disposal technique that city officials have considered at past meetings.

Council members originally weighed this issue earlier this year when considering whether or not to take the Idaho Department of Agriculture’s offer of an herbicide treatment free of cost to the city. However, the prospect of chemicals in public waters perturbed many residents, who announced their opinions at council meetings covering the topic. In addition, the Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper, a conservation organization that advocates for the environmental health of local waters, offered $10,000 in financial assistance to pursue non-herbicide treatment methods.

That $10,000 went to purchase the necessary equipment for the management plan. In addition, Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper aims to contribute another $10,000 for the plan’s continuation in 2013. The weed removal is also bolstered by support from the Idaho Department of Agriculture, the Tri-State Water Quality Council and a $25,000 grant from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

According to city staffer Jared Yost, the project planners expect four weeks of work during the 2012 season. Using pontoon boats as a staging area, divers will pull weeds on bottom of the lake at feed them into a pump, which transports the rubbish to the surface for later disposal. The month of work will focus primarily in the swimming areas and boating lanes. If all goes well, divers should remove watermilfoil from 20 percent or more of the marina this year.

That’s definitely a good thing, because the weeds could have a devastating impact on local recreation, tourism and commerce. If left untended, the noxious aquatic weeds can collect along the water surface, significantly impacting water quality and summertime fun.

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