SANDPOINT — While Lake Pend Oreille definitely has a watermilfoil problem, herbicides aren’t on the table as a treatment plan anymore.
In response to a plan put together by Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper, council members decided to decline the Idaho State Department of Agriculture’s offer to apply herbicide treatments in areas of infestation near publicly-used areas of City Beach. While the option came at no cost to the city, the idea of herbicides in the water made many residents cringe.
After proposing a non-herbicide management plan at last month’s council meeting, Waterkeeper representatives returned with a more detailed plan and a promise of financial assistance.
“I feel that this is really your opportunity to take control about how aquatic invasive weeds are managed within the city’s jurisdiction using non-toxic, sustainable approaches rather than herbicides, which is the only option that the state is willing to support at this time,” Waterkeeper Executive Director Shannon Williamson said in a public comment section.
The Waterkeeper plan utilizes a combination of driver dredging, the manual removal of weeds, and bottom barriers, large black tarps that block plants from sunlight. Although the treatment plan could cost between $40,140 and $53,300 depending on the amount of volunteer labor, the organization is offering at least $10,000 to help pay for it. Another $8,000 could be on its way from a possible grant, too.
The first thing council members wanted to know was whether or not bottom barriers could cause problems of their own, by killing off native flora and fauna or making room for another invasive plant, flowering rush.
Addressing the first concern, Williamson said the barriers certainly had an impact on the local ecosystem and may kill off some small invertebrates, but studies have indicated a range of effects including positive ones. As for the flowering rush, proponents said a counter-invasion was possible, but the management plan involved encouraging native species back into the area while removing unwanted plant life.
According to Idaho State Department of Agriculture spokesman Tom Woolf, the Waterkeeper plan could very well be effective at managing the area’s invasive species in the Wind Bag Marina and Sand Creek areas.
“It will take time, it will take persistence and it will take money,” he said. “And then state supports the most effective and efficient of treating plants in a given area, and for the Wind Bag area, herbicides are the most cost-effective way to do that.”
Based on a strong public response against the use of chemicals, however, council members voted to adopt a new management plan.
“I think this is a chance for us to be self-reliant and take responsibility for the health of the lake,” Councilman Shelby Rognstad said.