By Jim Novitski
Perch Lake Property Owners Association
Iron County (Upper Peninsula), Michigan
In 2015 the Perch Lake Owners Association (PLOA) developed a new method to prevent the establishment of aquatic invasive species (AIS). After a year of design, planning, and permitting we installed an underwater “containment area” around the public boat launch at Perch Lake, in Iron County, Michigan. I am writing this article on behalf of the Perch Lake Owners Association, in the hope that in sharing what we did might be of value to some other Lake Association or agency. I am not going to go into contractor names or cost breakdowns here, but would be more than happy to share them with any interested party. My contact information will be provided at the end of this article.
Let me start with describing a little about where and what we are. Perch Lake is located in northwest Iron County, Michigan. It is what some people consider a “primitive lake” with no public power, sewer, etc. It is approximately 1,000 acres in size and has about 40 private riparian owners, along with some Ottawa National Forest shoreline. It is, depending on road conditions, at least 40 minutes from any local city or town. We formed our Association about 8-10 years ago in order to deal with some different local proposals and projects that piqued the interests of a number of concerned seasonal residents. We evolved into taking a fairly active approach to the protection of Perch Lake.
To the best of our knowledge, the only invasive we have in Perch Lake is a rusty crayfish population, which we have been monitoring, along with other different agencies. In recent years there has been an enhanced expansion of aquatic invasive species, particularly Eurasian water milfoil, in nearby lakes. Perch Lake is especially susceptible to many invasive plants due to its rather shallow depth and propensity to support an already healthy aquatic plant biomass. The conventional wisdom in our area is to place monitors or boat wash stations at public landings in order to intercept noncompliant boaters or recreationalists. Installing a permanent boat-wash station at Perch Lake is cost-prohibitive due to the lack of infrastructure. The Iron Conservation District provides an educator and trailered pressure washer once or twice a year. In 2013 and 2014 PLOA hired local people (25 miles away) to regularly staff a monitoring station. This was all somewhat unreliable and very difficult and expensive to implement. A better solution was needed.
Over the years we have tossed around ideas that might help us protect Perch Lake from aquatic invasive species with our rather small budget. We had determined through knowledgeable people in our association and numerous other sources that prevention would be far less expensive than treatment and that the greatest risk for introduction of AIS was at the public boat launch. During the winter of 2013 another member (Chris Quinn) and I discussed an approach utilizing the somewhat natural “harbor” we had at the public boat landing. The concept we developed was to enclose the area used in launching via a floating boom with suspended netting that would contain any aquatic plants that loosen from a trailer or boat during the launching process. Chris contacted a number of venders and proceeded to explain what we were looking for. We finally found a supplier that could meet our needs. The next step was convincing our membership to take the leap of faith that was required to finance our new idea. After very little dissention we were told to pursue this idea, even if it required our Association to pay our own way, which in the end it did. The next step was to obtain the Federal, State, and local permits that were required to implement this project. It was a pleasant surprise that the permitting process was easier than what was expected. There was some homework but it was fairly simple and straight forward. Our president of the Association, Dave Foster, helped immensely with this process.
Once we finished the paperwork portion of the project we went to work on the nuts and bolts of it all. The main part of the system is basically a floating boom with suspended netting usually deployed when an oil leak or spill occurs. This item is straight off the shelf from our supplier. The only thing we had to determine is how deep the area in the boat landing area was and how big an area we wanted to contain. The depth determines the width of the net that goes from the floating boom to the bottom of the lake. The entire area we were enclosing had a depth of under 5’, so naturally the net width was 5’. The area we planned on containing allowed for a pontoon to launch and maneuver in order to exit the contained area. Our area is approximately 200’ x 200’.
Volunteers installed the containment area on July 11, 2015. We started on one side of the boat ramp by positioning removable posts in a ¾ semi-circle out in the lake. We then anchor one end of the boom-netting to the shore and run the remainder of the boom-netting alongside of the ballasted removable posts. The next step was to connect the boom-netting to the posts with a slip connection in order to compensate for fluctuating water levels. We had no idea how tough the material was that made up the boom-netting, so to protect our investment we installed a second floating boom that provides protection for the boom-netting in the event a boat would back into the netting, potentially damaging it. This is deployed alongside the main boom-netting and connected to it. Once this was completed we went to the other side of the boat ramp and repeated the procedure. The final task was to attach lights to aid in navigating in and out of the containment area. We also installed a new information sign at the boat launch, explaining the containment area and reminding visitors to clean their boats. It took us about 1 full day to install the system and 1 full day to remove it. All components were removed from the lake at the end of season.
Prior to the initial installation, we developed a monitoring plan with the Ottawa National Forest staff. The entire time the containment area was deployed we had volunteers conduct weekly inspections of the components, environmental impact, recording of trapped material, etc. The components were remarkably resilient. If I knew then what I know now we would have not bothered with the second protection boom. This stuff is really made well. The environmental impact was virtually nonexistent. While we were pulling the net out of the lake, a few small fish and minnows were brought in with it, but were released back into the lake unharmed. Another concern was the loons and duck population on the lake. Neither had an incident, actually the ducks liked laying in the area to get out of the wind. The containment system worked well for trapping all different kinds of aquatic plants. I can only speculate on where they came from but we ended up cleaning the trapped plants out of the area at least 4 times between July and October. It will take a few years to really measure the success of the containment area but as of now we are well pleased with its performance.
Once installed the containment system is “on duty” 24 hours a day, for as many days as we see fit. If we were to man just a monitoring station for inspecting watercraft for 10 – 12 hours a day for one season, the cost of installing the containment system is less, plus the fact that the systems components are warrantied for 5 years means we get 4 years at no cost to us. This cost savings is even greater if we were to include adding the cost of a boat wash to the monitoring station. This containment system idea may not be the best means of protecting all lakes but it does have a place. This would probably not work very well at a very busy big lake landing or a landing that is immediately adjacent to a precipitous drop to deep water. It would fit at a landing that gets 25 – 40 boats a day or at a secondary landing on a big lake that doesn’t see boat after boat traffic. Also keep in mind that this system is intended to complement the existing Clean Boats, Clean Waters protocols. The signage and the system also raise the level of awareness of AIS when a boater encounters our system on a primitive lake.
I have some additional thoughts and ideas on how we could improve on the system, but have had a difficult time generating interest from suppliers. I don’t have much pull, being from “some little lake in the UP”. I would really like to express how proud and grateful I am to be able to work with the members of the Perch Lake Owners Association on implementing this program, and for all the work that we have accomplished. I would also like to acknowledge and thank the United States Forest Service for the continued support and assistance in protecting Perch Lake. I am also grateful to all the associations and agencies in the area that were very helpful with our attempt at “TRYING SOMETHING DIFFERENT”.
For more information about this unique project designed to prevent introductions of aquatic invasive species via your local boat launch facility, contact Jim Novitski , e mail – firstname.lastname@example.org