Reservoir officials declare state of emergency to help stop spread of Salvinia

By NIKKI ROWELL,

The Pearl River Valley Water Supply District (PRVWSD) board has issued a state of emergency due to the presence of the invasive aquatic plant giant Salvinia, which is spreading in Pelahatchie Bay. This is the second time the plant has been found in the Ross Barnett Reservoir.

Aquatic vegetation experts worked alongside officials from the PRVWSD and Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks (MDWFP) to determine what the next steps should be to eradicate giant Salvinia in the reservoir.

The plan of action for eliminating the plant includes 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.

“A cold winter, combined with low water levels, intensive herbicide application and containment, gives us an opportunity to eradicate giant Salvinia this winter,” said reservoir general manager John Sigman.

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.

The ban will be in effect for approximately six months.

Sigman said the steps they need to take to eradicate the invasive plant might not be popular with residents and users of the reservoir, but that they are necessary to eliminate the plant.

So far, there have been several applications of herbicides. An aggressive spraying campaign will soon be underway.

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.

The boating ban took effect last week. 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.

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.

PRVWSD officials said residents with waterfront leases with boats docked or in boathouses will be given until November 5 to remove their boats at the Pelahatchie Shore Park boat ramp, if they want to.

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.

Bobby Cleveland with PRVWSD encourages boaters and fishermen to inspect the outside of their boats and trailers.

“It can sometimes be caught between the trailer and the boat,” he previously said to the Sun. “There are a lot of catch points on a trailer where vegetation can get stuck. Remove any plants that you see. Wash it with soap and warm water. That’s probably the most effective.”

Cleveland said that all water should be drained from the boat before one even leaves the lake that they’re fishing.

“There are a hundred different places it could get caught,” he said. “Only one small piece of a plant could spread. And when you’re inspecting your boat, don’t do just a simple walkaround. You have to take a bit of time to look.”

PRVWSD and MDWFP are working to rid the area of the plant before it spreads too much.

“This is a plant where in a matter of five or six weeks’ time it completely took over many acres of a lake it was in,” Cleveland said of some research he has done on the vegetation. “It can get so bad that if a fish swam up on it, it would die. That’s how thick this stuff can get.”

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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