SANDPOINT — The city’s milfoil problem is improving quickly as divers make progress on a manual treatment plan.
Since beginning in mid-August, divers have worked to clear out Eurasian milfoil from City Beach and surrounding areas. The approach, which was chosen by the City Council as an alternative to chemical treatments, has proven effective, according to city GIS manager Jared Yost.
“I would say everything has gone very well so far,” he said.
When many community members balked at the prospect of introducing herbicides into waters used for boating and swimming in late spring, council members decided to pursue a non-chemical solution to the problem. This manual milfoil management plan uses pontoon boats as a staging area for divers to cover infestation areas. After pulling weeds in the target region, they feed the milfoil into a pump that brings it to the surface for later disposal. About one more week of work remains on the project this year.
The original goal was to remove at least 20 percent of the milfoil from the region this year, ensuring that the swimming areas and main boating channels remain clear. Yost said that based on the current progress, they should have no trouble meeting all expectations this year.
“What we’re hoping to do is get it into a containment state,” he said.
While the water treatment plan will cost the city more than if officials had taken up the Idaho Department of Agriculture’s offer to apply herbicide treatments for free, several contributions have seriously mitigated costs. The Tri-State Water Council originally received $25,000 grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which Idaho Conservation League associate Susan Drumheller suggested be re-purposed to assist in the milfoil clean-up effort. This grant is now being used to help pay for the divers necessary for removing the weeds by hand.
Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper also pledged $10,000 in funds to purchase the necessary equipment for the project. This money was originally raised in 2009 to test the use of milfoil weevils, insects that target the weeds as a natural food source. However, complications regarding the Idaho Legislature’s ban on transporting aquatic invasive species forced them to put the project on hold. Now the money is being used to address the milfoil problem — just in a different way than originally envisioned. Waterkeeper officials also hope to have another $10,000 available for the city in the future.
That’s good news, because this project will need to occur over a series of years before the weeds are reduced to targeted levels. Nevertheless, Yost said the effort is off to a great start.
“We may be way ahead of the game in getting on this as early as we did and clearing out as much as we did,” he said, later adding, “We’ve put ourselves into a very manageable situation.”