Conservation officers have started inspecting watercraft in Anoka County this spring in an effort to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species.
Recently awarded state money has brought the county new muscle to fight Eurasian watermilfoil and zebra mussels, among other invaders in its lakes and rivers.
The county has hired an aquatic invasive species coordinator as well as a crew of seven watercraft inspectors that will work the waterways seven days a week from Memorial Day to Labor Day, said Jeff Perry, planning and resources manager for the county’s Parks and Recreation Department.
The inspectors completed training last week and have started field work to prepare for the upcoming holiday rush, Perry said. They’ll be at the boat launches helping the public and working to keep the rivers and lakes in good condition.
“The primary goal is education of water users and watercraft owners,” said Tina Wolbers, an aquatic invasive species prevention planner for the state’s Department of Natural Resources. “ … They can deny launch, but that’s the last resort because people are willing to remove water or invasive species.”
The county was granted $127,125 for 2015 from a tax bill that Gov. Mark Dayton signed last year. Overall, the measure provides $10 million a year for county government programs across the state to fight the spread of aquatic invaders. The amount each county received was based on the number of boat landings and watercraft parking spaces it has.
The funding provided flexibility for local governments to implement prevention and education plans.
Most of the employees are college students studying conservation or fishery management, Perry said. They will be rotating throughout the 21 public boat launches in the county, with a focus on the most heavily used locations.
The DNR trained the inspectors on how to look for and dispose of invasive species and conduct proper inspections, Perry said.
In December, the Anoka County Board approved a resolution outlining its use of the funds — a requirement of the state program.
The rough plan included installing traffic counters at select watercraft accesses, coordinating training for local police officers, and creating an early detection, rapid-response and containment plan.
The county is in the process of installing signage at the boat launches.
Perry said officials are also working on redeveloping a boat launch at Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park. A separate pull-off station will be used primarily for inspecting boats and removing species before and after the watercraft enter the Mississippi River, Perry said.
“First and foremost is focusing on prevention and education, public education at all of our water access facilities,” Perry said in January.