County gets aid to tackle invasive species

A countywide effort to prevent and deal with aquatic invasive species in lakes and rivers in Anoka County has been launched with the help of state dollars.

The 2014 Minnesota Legislature omnibus tax bill put in place a new county aid program administered by the Minnesota Department of Revenue to assist counties in tackling the spread of aquatic invasive species.

Under a state formula based on the number of public boat launches and the number of watercraft trailer parking spaces in each county, Anoka County was awarded $57,000 for 2014 and will receive $127,000 for 2015 and the years following, according to Jeff Perry, planning and resources manager, Anoka County Parks and Recreation Department.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, in arriving at the dollar amount, calculated that there are 21 public boat launches in the county and 310 parking spaces, Perry said.

A requirement of the state program aid is that the county outline its use of the state funds for the new aquatic invasive species prevention effort. The Anoka County Board Dec. 16 approved a resolution doing just that.

“Aquatic invasive species are threatening Minnesota waters,” Perry said. “These non-native species harm fish populations, water quality and water recreation.”

Perry has a long list of aquatic invasive species that are found in lakes and rivers in Anoka County, he said.

These include Eurasian Watermilfoil in several lakes and zebra mussels in the Mississippi and Rum rivers.

The county parks and community services division is taking the lead on the program but it is involving several other agencies.

In October, the county hosted an initial stakeholder meeting involving the DNR, Anoka Conservation District, Coon Creek and Rice Creek watershed districts and the Minnesota Watershed Management Organization to brainstorm initial ideas and a framework for developing guidelines for the first year of the program, according to Perry.

A broader stakeholder meeting will take place in the next month to include lake improvement districts, lake associations, conservation groups, cities and townships to further explore aquatic invasive species needs, ideas and collaborative efforts to make maximum use of the state funds, Perry wrote in a report to the county board.

Also underway is a comprehensive inventory and assessment of every watercraft access in the county to develop a report that includes maps, aerial photos, facility photos, various descriptions and priorities based on selective criteria.

The program guidelines for 2015 also include installing traffic counters at select watercraft accesses to find out the use level and prioritization of risk; coordinate training for local police officers; hire a program coordinator and coordinate authorized watercraft inspectors through a delegation agreement with the DNR; and create an early detection, rapid response and containment plan.

A primary goal for 2015 is to put in place a short-term implementation plan that will be reviewed and adapted annually, Perry said.

This could include installing signage and washing stations at public boat launches in the county, according to John VonDeLinde, county parks and recreation director.

The guidelines prepared by Perry also include education and training. For example, county field staff will be trained on practices to avoid spreading aquatic invasive species, developing and distributing prevention messages in the county newsletters, activities guide, city newsletters, lake associations and gate houses as well as ensuring local businesses are reducing the spread of aquatic invasive species.

In addition, the county will be coordinating its efforts with surrounding counties and cities that share watershed jurisdictions – the Rice Creek Watershed District includes Ramsey County and some of its cities – and targeting educational efforts at public access points with seasonal educators that are trained by the DNR, according to the guidelines.