By Dave Neuswanger — July 27, 2019
On Wednesday, May 22, 2019, the Quiet Lakes Improvement Association received our highly anticipated Eco-Harvester aquatic plant puller, delivered to the equipment shed of QLIA Vice-President Norm Bratteig where watercraft and trailer were registered and prepared for use in removing Hybrid Eurasian Water Milfoil (HEWM) from both Lost Land and Teal lakes. Unfortunately, we have confirmed the existence of HEWM in at least two locations on Teal Lake, in bays north and south of the mouth of the Thoroughfare leading into Teal from Lost Land. We knew this highly invasive plant was likely to spread from Lost Land to Teal sooner or later, but we would have preferred later.
Fortunately, we now have some very good equipment for harvesting and removing HEWM. Our goal is to prevent HEWM from attaining levels of abundance that would seriously impede navigation, discourage recreation, compromise ecosystem integrity, and depress lakeshore property values. After years of monitoring, planning, and experimenting with ineffective chemical control methods, I am confident we are now employing the only potentially effective strategy for achieving our goal.
Eco-Harvester hydraulics (paddle-wheel propulsion and various conveyor systems) worked flawlessly and easily from the start, but QLIA “test pilots” Norm Bratteig and Kim Phelps learned some valuable lessons during the first couple test runs in early June — lessons that will help guide future operations. Most importantly, we learned that HEWM must be at the water surface before the stems are long enough and strong enough for Eco-Harvester’s rolling drum to remove them by the roots rather than breaking off tender tips still well beneath the water surface. To avoid fragmentation and inadvertent spreading of HEWM, future operations will be timed if possible to coincide with HEWM’s emergence at the surface, when it forms visible seed heads. This means we will likely be operating in early to mid summer more than late spring, depending on annual variation in weather conditions. It also means that timely reports of HEWM reaching the surface (called “topping”) will help our volunteer operators to remove these weeds before the seeds mature and various forms of recreation fragment the plants and facilitate colonization elsewhere. Bottom Line: The OPTIMAL time for Eco-Harvester operation is when these invasive plants first reach the surface at a time when desirable native plants are still well below the surface and are relatively invulnerable to our mechanical removal method.
As of Friday, July 26, 2019, the team of Bratteig and Phelps (joined eventually by several other volunteers) had operated the Eco-Harvester on Lost Land Lake for a total of 11 full (9-hour) days since some patches of HEWM became optimally harvestable in late June. Most of the effort to date has been on Wilson Bay of Lost Land Lake where the problem first emerged and has been most severe, though one day was spent removing a topped-out bed of HEWM in the southwest corner of Morgan Bay (aka Steamboat Bay) of Lost Land Lake. Curiously, significant beds of HEWM developing in early spring in other areas of Morgan Bay seem to have died out on their own by early July for reasons we do not understand. But we are not complaining!
The Eco-Harvester is capable of storing approximately 2 cubic yards of harvested plant material before it is deemed “full” and must be driven slowly (4.2 mph when fully loaded) to the nearest boat landing for off-loading. As of July 26, 2019, our amazing volunteers had harvested 22 loads (44 cubic yards, compacted) for transport to boat landings, where 11 trips were made with Norm Bratteig’s dump trailer to the old Town landfill. To put this in perspective, we have removed roughly the equivalent of three dump-truck loads of HEWM from Lost Land Lake to date, clearing several acres of topped-out HEWM from the worst areas of infestation in Wilson Bay and one problem area in Morgan Bay. Other areas will be visited as soon as HEWM is ready for harvest and volunteers have time to operate.
Other Important Lessons Learned: At first we were not sure we could operate this program exclusively with volunteers. In fact, a straw poll conducted at our Annual Meeting on July 20, 2019 supported a tentative plan by the Executive Committee to begin searching for a contract operator and helper. (A helper with rake and pitchfork is essential for effective operation.) However, such plans are now on hold in light of a wave of volunteerism by conscientious members who support this program and have begun working with Eco-Harvester Lead Operator and Volunteer Coordinator Kim Phelps. Kim is confident he can coordinate the efforts of enough volunteers to keep the Eco-Harvester operating when and where needed. Moving the program even further along, Kim discovered a hydraulic dump trailer that will drastically reduce the amount of manual labor required to redistribute HEWM upon off-loading. The Executive Committee subsequently approved Kim’s purchase of a $6,400 hydraulic dump trailer on sale in Rice Lake for $5,500. This frees up Norm Bratteig’s personal dump trailer for his own upcoming home construction project, and gives us a trailer that seems almost custom-designed for our purposes.
Funding to Date: Thanks to the caring generosity of more than 100 QLIA memberships, we made a 30% Eco-Harvester down-payment of $23,240 on December 18, 2018. Our final payment of $54,724 on May 22, 2019 (which included a $500 custom kit to shade our volunteer operators from the sun) brings the total cost for Eco-Harvester and trailer to $77,964. Our fall/winter pledge drive generated $82,505 in funds earmarked for Eco-Harvester purchase and operations, so $4,541 was available for all registrations, licensing, insurance, minor equipment purchases (two-way radio, depth sounder, boat bumpers, life jackets etc.) and 2019 operations (gasoline to power Eco-Harvester generator and mileage reimbursement to volunteers who will use their own vehicles to haul harvested HEWM to our disposal site). The QLIA Executive Committee decided to tap into approximately half of our $10,000 in general operating funds to purchase the hydraulic dump trailer that will make it easier for volunteers to do the work. We are very grateful to all members and friends who have entrusted us with the funds needed to try to keep our lakes healthy.