Kenai Peninsula leads statewide elodea fight

Although elodea wasn’t discovered on the Kenai Peninsula until 2012, the peninsula is at the forefront of eradicating it.

The invasive aquatic plant was discovered in Beck Lake, Daniels Lake and Stormy Lake, all in Nikiski. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service slammed the brakes on activity in the lakes to prevent further spread, which has so far been successful, according to Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Supervisory Biologist Dr. John Morton — the department has not found the plant anywhere else on the peninsula.

Today, the lakes are essentially clear. The department is still conducting some spot treatments and Stormy Lake will remain closed to the retention of Dolly Varden and Arctic char throughout the winter, but they hope to have the boat launch open again by spring, Morton said in a presentation to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly Tuesday.

“To the best of our knowledge, it only occurred in the three lakes north of Nikiski,” Morton said. “Our main concern is that it doesn’t occur in any of the three lakes. We’re continuing to work with other areas in the state in hopes that they will catch up.”

That is not the case elsewhere in Alaska. Anchorage is still treating elodea in its lakes and the plant was recently discovered in Lake Hood, which is the site of one of the world’s busiest floatplane bases. Cordova still has elodea in several of its lakes and the infestations near Fairbanks are currently being treated.

Elodea doesn’t need much plant material to spread — even a sprig can quickly invade a lake, Morton said. The Fish and Wildlife Service wanted to treat the lake quickly to prevent the planes from inadvertently spreading elodea to other bodies of water in Alaska, he said, but the permitting process through the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation can take up to 100 days.

Part of that is the department being cautious about spreading chemicals into the environment, but it can delay treatment, he said.

“If you apply in the spring, you’re lucky if you can start treatment by the fall,” Morton said.

However, the borough’s financial aid to the Fish and Wildlife Service has been able to help with the Lake Hood treatment. The Department of Environmental Conservation made a one-time permit exception for the treatment of Lake Hood, and the Fish and Wildlife Service was able to use some of the funds to purchase the chemicals to treat the lake, Morton said.

Without the funds from the borough, the department would have had to apply for National Environmental Policy Act funds, which can take months to be approved.

Unlike indigenous plants, elodea photosynthesizes throughout the winter, even beneath the ice, which allows it to spread quickly, he said. The Fish and Wildlife Service used a tactic of loading the lakes with fluridone, an herbicide that interferes with photosynthesis and kills the plants gradually.

This allows them to die and disintegrate, while the alternative would be to shock the lake and kill everything in it, including the fish. The biologists then maintain the fluridone at levels lethal to elodea in the water column for weeks at a time, monitoring the chemical level constantly, Morton said.

Fluridone is a fairly expensive chemical — the effort to fight elodea in the three lakes on the peninsula ran up a total bill of approximately $660,000, Morton said. However, it is the most effective long-term solution and poses no risk to humans, making it safer for settled areas, he said.

This tactic is being used in the Tanana River Watershed area in the interior, where elodea was discovered in September. Heather Stewart, a natural resource specialist for the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, said the department is not sure how elodea spreads in individual cases, but there are a number of risks.

“I can’t point the finger, as much as I’d like to, because it would make our lives easier,” Stewart said. “We see a lot of fragmenting (of the plant). We think that if we can get these sites at an early part of their establishment, it has less time for that natural dispersion.”

To date, the state has spent nothing on fighting elodea — all of the funds have been provided through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the Kenai Peninsula Borough and other smaller sources, Stewart said. Because Lake Hood is a commercially operating floatplane base, they were able to use the airport plant funds to treat the base.

However, the cost of fighting it in Cordova’s Eyak Lak and other infested bodies of water could range up to $1 million, making it hard to find the funds, Stewart said. On top of that, the Department of Natural Resources does some surveying, but it is difficult to determine where else elodea could be growing in the state, she said.

“I’m pretty sure that we’re also on our way for eradication (in Anchorage) as long as we keep up with the surveys” Stewart said. “That’s kind of the caveat to what we’re dealing with. We have a snapshot of where we think it is, but there’s huge areas that haven’t been surveyed.”

 

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

More in News

Nate Rochon cleans fish after dipnetting in the Kasilof River, on June 25, 2019, in Kasilof, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)
King closures continue; Kasilof dipnet opens Saturday

The early-run Kenai River king sport fishery remains closed, and fishing for kings of any size is prohibited

An "Al Gross for Congress" sign sits near the driveway to Gross’ home in Anchorage, Alaska, on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, after he announced plans to withdraw from the U.S. House race. Gross has given little explanation in two statements for why he is ending his campaign, and a woman who answered the door at the Gross home asked a reporter to leave the property. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)
Alaska judge rules Sweeney won’t advance to special election

JUNEAU — A state court judge ruled Friday that Alaska elections officials… Continue reading

Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion 
Soldotna City Manager Stephanie Queen listens to a presentation from Alaska Communications during a meeting of the Soldotna City Council on Wednesday, March 9, 2022 in Soldotna, Alaska.
ACS pilots fiber program in certain peninsula neighborhoods

The fiber to the home service will make available the fastest internet home speeds on the peninsula

Nurse Tracy Silta draws a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the walk-in clinic at the intersection of the Kenai Spur and Sterling Highways in Soldotna, Alaska on Wednesday, June 9, 2021. COVID-19 vaccines for kids younger than 5 years old are now approved by both the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Camille Botello / Peninsula Clarion)
COVID shots for kids under 5 available at public health

Roughly 18 million kids nationwide will now be eligible to get their COVID vaccines.

Megan Mitchell, left, and Nick McCoy protest the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning of Roe v. Wade at the intersection of the Kenai Spur and Sterling highways on Friday, June 24, 2022 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
‘Heartbroken’, ‘Betrayed’: Alaskans react to Roe decision

Supreme Court decision ends nearly 50 years of legally protected access to abortion

Demonstrators gather outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday, June 24, 2022. The Supreme Court has ended constitutional protections for abortion that had been in place nearly 50 years, a decision by its conservative majority to overturn the court’s landmark abortion cases. (AP Photo / Jose Luis Magana)
Alaskans react to Supreme Court overturn of Roe v. Wade

The Supreme Court has ended constitutional protections for abortion.

Tara Sweeney, a Republican seeking the sole U.S. House seat in Alaska, speaks during a forum for candidates, May 12, 2022, in Anchorage, Alaska. (AP Photo/ Mark Thiessen)
Lawsuit says Sweeney should advance in Alaska US House race

The lawsuit says the fifth-place finisher in the special primary, Republican Tara Sweeney, should be put on the August special election ballot

Gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker stands in the Peninsula Clarion office on Friday, May 6, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Alaska AFL-CIO endorses Walker, Murkowski, Peltola

The AFL-CIO is Alaska’s largest labor organization and has historically been one of its most powerful political groups

A portion of a draft letter from Jeffrey Clark is displayed as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol continues to reveal its findings of a year-long investigation, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, June 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Federal agents search Trump-era official’s home, subpoena GOP leaders

Authorities on Wednesday searched the Virginia home of Jeffrey Clark

Most Read