The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is slashing the money it gives to dozens of cities and lake groups to treat aquatic invasive species, including Eurasian milfoil, on more than 100 lakes.
The DNR grant program that awarded $675,000 this year will cut its offerings to $200,000 next year for budget reasons, according to Wendy Crowell, its ecological resources grants coordinator.
Those DNR dollars account for about one-third of the money spent to manage invasive aquatic species, usually with chemical treatments. Cities and lake associations that have relied on them to kill off the thick mats of vegetation that crowd out native plants and ruin swimming and boating say it’s a major loss.
“It’s the land of 10,000 lakes, and you are going to cut that funding by more than 50 percent? It’s a little disappointing to hear,” said Coon Rapids Public Works Director Tim Himmer. DNR dollars have been used, along with money from the cities of Coon Rapids and Andover and shoreline residents, to treat Crooked Lake.
This year, 182 grants were awarded to help combat invasive weeds on more than 100 lakes, including Ham Lake in Anoka County and Lake Minnetonka in Hennepin County. Next year, those groups will compete for a smaller pot.
“It’s not something we wanted to do,” said Ann Pierce, section manager of the DNR’s Ecological and Water Resources Division. “We understand this is a hardship for people. It puts a burden on lake associations that may not have direct access to that money.
“We have less money that we did last year,” she said. “Still, we are trying to maintain our focus, with a budget cut.”
The DNR notified lake groups of the cuts in September so they could start looking for alternatives, she said.
This year, the Lake Minnetonka Association spent $190,000 to treat invasives. The DNR contributed $16,000 of that, with the rest coming from fundraising. Losing that money will be a blow, said Melissa Waskiewicz, executive director of the Lake Minnetonka Association.
“I don’t know how we are going to deal with it,” she said. “There are more invasive species knocking on our door every day, and we are not equipped to deal what we’ve got now.”
Pierce said the state remains committed to fighting invasives by treating problem lakes, educating citizens and improving boat launch inspections. Its strategy emphasizes local control and partnerships, she said.
Two years ago, the Legislature approved $10 million in annual spending to battle aquatic invasives. That money goes directly to counties, which can spend it as they see fit. Many use it for boat launch inspectors and preventive education.
The DNR is helping train county inspectors, which is part of the reason it’s facing a budget crunch.
Who is responsible?
Eurasian milfoil was first discovered in Minnesota in 1987 in Lake Minnetonka. Since then, it’s been found in about 310 Minnesota lakes.
Andover City Administrator Jim Dickinson said the DNR should continue to fund treatments.
“The DNR really pushes to have public access to the lake,” he said. “ … Everyone knows these weeds transfer from one lake to another. They give boat licenses and fishing licenses. They should definitely participate.”
Even though milfoil treatments are small line items in city budgets, the question of who pays for them can be politically charged. Lakeshore owners seek help from cities and counties, arguing that boats and trailers launching from public ramps spread the weeds. City leaders, sometimes weary of paying for treatments on a lake only a few in a community use, ask homeowners and the DNR to contribute.
The cities of Andover and Coon Rapids insist that shoreline residents cover 10 percent of the annual cost of treatment, which totaled about $7,000 this year. Andover will cover 40 percent and the Coon Rapids City Council will decide later this month if it’s willing to cover the remaining 50 percent.
“You got to pay to play and live on a lake,” Dickinson said. “If you are going to ask for something, this council’s thinking is you’ve got to have a little skin the game.”
But leaders in both cities say the 118-acre lake, which has a public boat launch, is a worthwhile investment for them, too.
“We don’t have many lakes in the city. The ones we do have, we should look to preserve as a resource and an amenity for the community,” Himmer said.
In neighboring Ham Lake, lakeshore owners are again imploring the city, the biggest shoreline owner, to contribute to milfoil treatment. Residents have raised more than $30,000 in private donations to pay for it. They also receive DNR grants, but the Ham Lake mayor and council have refused to tap general funds to help.
The city owns a park that occupies more than one-third of the shoreline. Anoka County operates a public boat launch.
“They think, “It’s their lake and their problem.’ There are so many other people that use it than just us,” said Paulette Berndt, the Ham Lake Lake Association’s vice president.
She said the two years of aggressive treatments have improved the lake, but that the association is almost out of money. It will host a strategy session this month.
“You get a lot more kayakers and paddleboarders who didn’t realize there was something so close to home,” Berndt said.
Ham Lake City Council Member Gary Kirkeide said he’s willing to explore a boat launch user or parking fee to help pay for treatment, but can’t see spending city dollars on an amenity that benefits so few.
“I understand that it’s in their backyards,” he said. “They care about what’s going on there. They can’t stand the thought of the lake being overrun with weeds.
“But we’ve always felt Ham Lake is a DNR lake. … It’s in their domain. The DNR has a massive budget. It’s too bad they are cutting that funding.”