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published: Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Weed whackers: Lake Istokpoga hydrilla treatment under way
By CHRISTOPHER TUFFLEY
SEBRING -- Look for helicopters hovering over Lake Istokpoga for the next three or four days. Aerial spraying is scheduled there through Friday, weather permitting.
"This is something we do periodically," said Corine Burgess, "The problem is, hydrilla grows so doggone fast. It has been a huge problem for a long time because it gets out of control."
Approximately 4,000 acres of hydrilla will be treated by helicopter using Aquathol Super KTM, which is an approved herbicide for use in lakes. The federal Department of Environmental Protection posts no restrictions on recreational activities such as fishing, swimming or irrigation related to the herbicide.
A variety of professionals and agencies including Highlands County Aquatic Weed Control, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Helena Chemical and United Phosphorus Inc. will be at the staging area to make sure the project progresses smoothly.
The aerial spraying is applied to selected areas where hydrilla is particularly heavy.
These aerial spraying projects are a team effort between many agencies to ensure that Lake Istokpoga remains accessible. The staff from Highlands County Weed Control keeps the helicopter's tanks filled with herbicide when it lands, while others are on boats in Lake Istokpoga making sure the area is clear of vessels in the spray zone. Fish and Wildlife personnel oversee the project and other agency representatives are on site to assist.
Hydrilla verticillata is a federally listed noxious weed. It was brought to the U.S. from Sri Lanka as an aquarium plant in the 1950s, and by the 1960s was discovered growing in natural areas. It has spread rapidly since then -- throughout Florida and as far as California and Massachusetts.
According to the University of Florida Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants, hydrilla can cover an entire waterway in only a few seasons. It grows so quickly a lake can go from 30 percent to 70 percent coverage in just a few months, which is why it must be constantly managed. The cost for doing so on Florida's public waters approaches $20 million a year.
It is dubbed the "invisible menace" because it can't be seen until it tops out, which simply means it has grown so big that it reaches the surface of the water. When this plant invades a water body, many important native plants and animals are put in harm's way. Native plants can't survive because they are simply crowded out, or shaded out by the hydrilla's thick mats.
This pesky plant also slows water flow and often clogs irrigation and flood control canals. It may hamper navigation and can prevent swimming and fishing in areas where it is particularly thick. If the plant is abundant enough, it can even deplete the oxygen levels in the water which causes fish to die. In just 20 short years, the plant has spread throughout the entire state of Florida and continues to grow rapidly.
Unfortunately, many of Highlands County's lakes are infested with hydrilla. Istokpoga is among the worst and treatments are scheduled two times a year.
The following steps are recommended in order to help keep waterways clear: Never transport aquatic or wetland plants to other areas; never empty an aquarium into a body of water or canal; learn to identify which invasive plants live in the area; when disposing of plants, completely dry or freeze them and put them in the trash -- do not compost them; avoid chopping aquatic plants with boat propellers as some plant fragments can grow into new infestations; and remove plant matter from boats and trailers after use.
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