Cleaning stations set up to fight Salvinia

By NIKKI ROWELL,

Soon boaters at the Ross Barnett Reservoir will have the option to wash up as soon as they exit the water.

The Pearl River Valley Water Supply District (PRVWSD) board voted to accept a grant from the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality to purchase two boat cleaning stations.

This is coming on the heels of the PRVWSD declaring a state of emergency due to the presence of giant Salvinia, which is spreading in Pelahatchie Bay, in October.

According to Bobby Cleveland, the grant will cover 60 percent of the cost and the board will fund the other 40 percent.

Cleveland said the boat cleaning stations could cost roughly $72,000.

“This is a great tool and is exactly what we need to show that this is serious business,” Cleveland said.

Potential locations for the two stations are still being discussed, but Cleveland said they are considering having one in Pelahatchie Shore Park, since it is the most popular place in Pelahatchie Bay.

The other location they are considering is a boat ramp off Highway 43, since it is the most used boat ramp at the reservoir, according to Cleveland.

Cleveland is encouraging boaters and fishermen to inspect their boats and trailers closely to prevent the spread of giant Salvinia.

He said vegetation can sometimes get caught between the trailer and the boat. He said since there are many places on a trailer where vegetation can get stuck, boaters should remove any plants they see, and wash with soap and warm water.

That is the most effective way to remove all vegetation, as one small piece of a plant could cause it to spread.

This is the second time the plant has been found in the Ross Barnett Reservoir.

PRVWSD and the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks (MDWFP) have worked closely with aquatic experts to determine what the next steps should be to eradicate giant Salvinia in the reservoir.

The plan of action for eliminating the plant has included a temporary ban on boating on Pelahatchie Bay, continued extensive herbicide treatment, and lowering the lake level during the winter months to expose the plant to cold weather, which is one of its biggest weaknesses.

Cleveland said that they were finally able to reach the target lake level of 295.5. The water level is low enough to expose 90 to 95 percent of the plant.

“Freezing temperatures are the only thing that could kill it,” Cleveland said. “We are hoping sometime around mid-December to late February that we will have a two to three-day arctic blast. If we could combine that with the dry plant, I think we have a good chance of killing it.”

When the plant is dry it is left in a weakened condition, which makes it more vulnerable to cold weather.

“We’ve done what we can,” Cleveland said. “We will continue to spray what the weather allows. Now we’re hoping nature takes its course.”

 

Passage between the main lake and Pelahatchie Bay under the bridge of Northshore Parkway is also blocked with temporary obstructions.

The booms will block the plant from riding the wind or current into the main lake.

All boat ramps in the Pelahatchie Bay area, both public and private, will remain closed to prevent the plant from spreading by boat.

All watercrafts are temporarily banned in that area, including fishing boats, pleasure crafts, canoes, kayaks, personal watercrafts and sailboats.

Those caught boating in that area will be escorted out. The only watercrafts with clearance to be in the Pelahatchie Bay at this time must be vessels owned by a governmental agency or PRVWSD approved contractors.

The ban will be in effect for approximately six months.

So far, there have been several applications of herbicides. Officials are trying to contain the problem so that the spraying campaign will not kill the natural vegetation.

Unfortunately, MDWFP said these herbicides could have a negative impact on important native vegetation, including lily pads.

Giant Salvinia could live up to a week outside of the water and even longer than that on a moist surface, such as in a boat’s bilge or on the carpeted bunk board of a trailer, according to PRVWSD.

The aggressive, non-native plant was first found in the reservoir and eradicated in 2013. PRVWSD and MDWFP officials say the plant is most commonly introduced to new waters by boaters.

Moving forward, they are stressing the importance of boaters cleaning, draining and drying all boating equipment after each use to limit the spread of invasive species, like giant Salvinia.

In five to six weeks’ time, the plant could completely overtake a lake.

Biologists with MDWFP have said it is one of the country’s most dreaded invasive plants because of its rapid growth potential and the difficulty of eradication.

The plant is capable of doubling its biomass in 36 hours in optimal conditions, such as warm, still waters.

If the plant is not eradicated, it could take over in a matter of weeks, with mats up to three feet thick choking out all aquatic life, and it could make boating, swimming or fishing impossible in affected areas.

For questions or comments, reach out to officials at comments@therez.ms.

 

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