Lake Elmo to take on watermilfoil problem

Lake Jane, as seen from the public boat landing, is one of four lakes in Lake Elmo where it is hoped chemical treatments will help to kill off Eurasian watermilfoil. (Linda Baumeister/Review)

The Lake Elmo City Council, Valley Branch Watershed District and several lake associations are partnering to develop a long-term eradication plan for Eurasian watermilfoil.

City administrator Dean Zuleger said the invasive aquatic plant has made itself at home in all four of the city's major recreational lakes -- Olson, Demontreville, Jane and Elmo.

On Thursday, Oct. 30, council member Wally Nelson and representatives from Silver Lake, Long Lake, Olson Lake, Lake Demontreville, Lake Jane and Lake Elmo met with Meg Rattei, senior biologist at Barr Engineering, to discuss the severity of the problem and treatment options.

Rattei has worked with several watershed districts around the Twin Cities to find solutions in dealing with aquatic invasive species such as Eurasian watermilfoil. Rattei said the plant is prevalent in all four lakes and has been spreading in recent years.

According to a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources report, Eurasian watermilfoil was first found in Minnesota in Lake Minnetonka in 1987 and has since spread to dozens of lakes across the state. The plant hitchhikes its way to new bodies of water by clinging to watercraft and boat trailers. In shallow water it interferes with water recreational activities, making swimming, fishing and boating difficult and unpleasant.

Rattei said the nuisance plant either flourishes in certain lakes or it doesn't.  She said scientists have yet to discover why that is.

"What we're seeing in these lakes in Lake Elmo is that milfoil grows really well," she said.  "If you could sell it, you'd be wealthy. Unfortunately, no one wants it."

Rattei explained that watermilfoil is a hardy plant that can grow rapidly. In 2013, for example, it was found in 2 percent of sample points in Lake Jane. Last spring Barr Engineering did another plant survey in the lake and found the plant in 19 percent of sample points.

In Lake Demontreville, watermilfoil was found in 4 percent of sample sites in 2012 but spiked to 33 percent last year. A chemical treatment last spring brought the percentage down to 19 percent in June, but Rattei said residents living near the lake reported seeing the invasive plants back in large numbers by mid-summer.

Plant surveys of Olson Lake and Lake Elmo showed similar results. Rattie said watermilfoil has been prevalent in Lake Elmo for years. A 2014 survey found it in 34 percent of all sample sites in Lake Elmo, and 28 percent in Olson Lake.

"There is a huge milfoil problem in every lake," Nelson said. "When I was out door knocking [while campaigning this fall] it was brought up often. I think it's time for the city to step in."

Nelson said the role of the city should be that of a collaborator, to bring the watershed district and lake area residents together to tackle the problem. A citizen advisory committee has been created to work on the issue collectively from Silver Lake and Long Lake to the north to Lake Elmo in the south. Zuleger said Silver and Long lakes have been treated for the past five years and are part of the same drainage basin.

Rattei said the best chemical to use to kill watermilfoil is 2,4-D. She said the chemical was used in Lake Demontreville, but at .1 parts-per-million, the concentration was not strong enough.

"You need a concentration of .3 parts-per-million to kill the root crown," she said.

Applications of the 2,4-D chemical are expensive. Nelson said current cost estimates to treat all four lakes with a concentration of .3 parts-per-million are between $40,000 and $46,000.  Nelson said there are state grants available to help offset that cost. Barr Engineering is putting together a grant request and will submit the proposal by Jan. 1. The grant, however, will not pay for it all. Nelson said he is hopeful that the lake associations will be able to raise the rest with funding provided by homeowners with lakeshore property. He said he would like to avoid using taxpayer funds for the project, but said ultimately that would be up to the council as a whole.

The Valley Branch Watershed District will cover the cost of the extensive technical analysis and other work provided by Barr Engineering. It's projected to be between $10,000 and $15,000.

"I'm very impressed with what they are willing to do," Nelson said. "The watershed district has stepped up big."

Rattei said even after successful chemical treatments, lakes invested with the virulent milfoil need to be monitored long term, because a single segment of the plant can quickly turn into a new colony.

In early December the city will host a lake homeowners meeting for lakes Elmo and Jane to talk about a preventative maintenance plan for this spring and summer.  

Joshua Nielsen can be reached at or 651-748-7822.


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