Alert! Aquatic Invasive Species Funding Takes a Dive
Vermont’s lakes and ponds are facing a serious and growing threat from the spread of aquatic invasive species (AIS). While Vermont can still boast some of the cleanest and most pristine surface waters in the country, our public waters are under increasing pressure from the spread of AIS. In the summer of 2022, three lakes that formerly had no invasives, reported new infestations of Eurasian watermilfoil.
This is unfortunate news because these kinds of infestations are preventable. With a small amount of funding from the state’s Aquatic Nuisance Control (ANC) Grant-in-Aid program and a great deal of fundraising, volunteer lake associations around the state run greeter programs to inspect and clean boats entering and leaving lakes and educate boaters and all lake users about the problem of invasive species. These funds are also used to control and reduce already existing infestations, helping to prevent transport to other lakes. Yet for 2023, the state is cutting these funds by over 22%.
Greeter and control programs are vital to invasive species spread prevention. As the damage invasives can cause to an ecosystem has become more evident, more lake associations have developed greeter programs, looking to the state ANC Grant-in-Aid program for basic funding. Although the number of programs has grown, the ANC funds have been level funded for years at $450,000.
Now, when there is even greater pressure on our lakes from increased usage, when we should be creating more greeter programs, and when those already operating should increase their hours, the state is cutting the funds that support these programs to a mere $350,000 or less.
The amount of this cut may seem small in a multi-billion dollar budget but $100,000 can be the difference between clean water or an invasive infestation. While these funds were never truly adequate and volunteer lake associations have always been in the position of having to raise more funds, they still helped. They were often the seed that got a program off the ground.
Nevertheless, of the 196 Vermont lakes with public boat or fishing accesses, only approximately 32 have active greeter programs and of these only 4 have hot water boat wash stations to clean boats (the best way to ensure no invasives are transported). The reason for these low numbers is simple – inadequate funding.
The spread of AIS is a human caused problem, spread by moving boats and other gear from infested water bodies to non-infested water bodies. The best and most cost-effective defense against spread is prevention. Once a waterbody is infested, reducing and controlling the infestation to maintain the health of the lake and to avoid degraded water quality is extremely expensive, far more expensive than prevention. For example, diver-assisted suction harvesting to clear 1 acre of Eurasian watermilfoil can cost as much as $10,000 while running a greeter program for an entire summer season might cost $20,000 to $30,000.
Control and reduction of aquatic invasives is also part of prevention. The more that an infestation can be reduced, the less likely boats leaving that waterbody will carry the invasive to other water bodies. Yet the indications are that this funding cut will all but eliminate funds for control programs.
This is not a trivial matter, AIS, such as Eurasian watermilfoil, if left unchecked, can spread to form monocultures that will squeeze out the native plant species that are necessary to support native fish and other wildlife that depend on a healthy lake ecosystem. Other types of invasives, such as zebra mussels can clog water intakes, make beaches unusable, and damage boat engines. Invasive species can cause poor water quality and can adversely affect human health.
We need funds not only for educational outreach and greeter programs to prevent infestations, but also to manage and control existing infestations so AIS is not carried from those lakes to non-infested lakes.
There is an economic cost, too. A dense infestation can lead to falling waterfront property values, meaning lower tax revenues for towns, as well as decreases in tourism, an important contributor to Vermont’s economy.
We are fortunate that many of our most beautiful and pristine lakes, such as Caspian, Maidstone, Seymour and Raponda still have no known invasives. However, without adequate funding, these and the other lakes and ponds still not infested are in real danger of infestation.
Now more than ever we need funding for AIS prevention and control to increase – not decrease!
What to Know
- Vermont law requires AIS prevention: In 1978, Vermont lawmakers recognized the critical threat posed by aquatic invasive species and passed Vermont’s Aquatic Nuisance Control law (10 V.S.A. Chapter 50).This law states: “It is the policy of the state of Vermont to prevent the infestation and proliferation of invasive species in the state that result in negative environmental impacts, including habitat loss and a reduction in native biodiversity along with adverse social and economic impacts and impacts to the public health and safety.” (10 V.S.A, Chapter 50. §1451)
- The state’s General Fund provides only $25,000 for AIS prevention and control.
- DEC’s ANC funds are allocated from a portion of the Motorboat Registration fees (MBR). A percentage of this is used for staff salaries for AIS prevention and permitting (due to lack of general fund support as noted above) with the remainder funding the ANC Grant-in-Aid program. For years, this program has been level funded and has typically consisted of $250,000 from the MBR fees, $100,000 from an U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and $100,000/year from a one-time surplus.
- 2023 Reduction: The one-time surplus is now depleted. Available funds for ANC grant awards are now reduced to $350,000 and possibly less.
- Aquatic invasive species staffing in the Lakes and Ponds Program was reduced to one person several years ago. Due to this reduction, the Program attempted to outsource the ANC Grant-in-Aid program but was unsuccessful. For now, this grant program stays within the Lakes Program.
- Although the Lakes Program was approved to use an unfilled position to hire for AIS Program support, a large percentage of the individual’s workload (Olin Reed started on January 3rd) is oversight of the ANC permit program.
- The new norm for the ANC Grant-in-Aid grant program will, for the first time, not fund all complete application requests. In the past, this program worked to ensure that all eligible programs received some funding. Now, funding decisions will be made on some yet undisclosed criteria, with the potential to leave some active programs unfunded.
- The need: In 2022 the ANC program with funds of only $450,000 received $1.2 million in requests for AIS prevention and control, meaning each applicant received only a tiny percentage of need and placing yet more burden on volunteers to raise the additional needed funds.
- Of the 800+ lakes and ponds in the state, only 34 have greeter programs, not all of which operate 7 days/week, and only 4 have high pressure, hot water boat washes.
- What about the $50 million in the Clean Water Budget? AIS prevention and control is NOT eligible for any of these funds.
Support Vermont’s Lake Associations
Our volunteer lake associations bear the burden of the work of prevention and control of aquatic invasive species in the state’s public waters. Each year our volunteers raise hundreds of thousands of dollars and contribute thousands of hours of unpaid labor to implement a variety of programs to monitor, collect data, prevent the spread of invasives, protect our lakes and ponds from pollutants, and educate the public about best practices to protect our public waters. We do this willingly, but we cannot do it without a reasonable amount of funding and support from the state. The state’s ANC Grant-in-Aid funding cut suggests that the state is abrogating its responsibility to protect our waters from aquatic invasive species.
What Can You Do About Decreasing State Funding for Aquatic Invasive Species?
- Contact your state representatives and senators by letter, email or telephone. Click here for legislative advocacy tips.
- Join with FOVLAP to advocate for adequate funding and support by joining the board, auxiliary board or one of our committees. Email us at email@example.com
- Promote the importance of funding for AIS management in your lake community via social media, local meetings and one-on-one conversations.
- Engage others now and encourage them to advocate for funds to support this critical issue.