LAKE GEORGE -- If three little words can spread faster than aquatic invasive species, the future of Lake George looks clear and bright.
“Clean, drained and dry,” the instructors repeated throughout a hands-on training Wednesday on how to inspect and decontaminate water vessels.
The training was being held for the new Lake George Park Commission’s Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention Program, a mandatory inspection initiative that kicks off May 15. The program will staff six stations, at the two state-owned launches at Mossy Point and Rogers Rock; Norowal Marina in Bolton; an inspection station on Transfer Road near Northway Exit 21; Dunham’s Bay launch in Queensbury; and Huletts Landing Marina on the east side of the lake.
“This is the only program east of the Mississippi,” said Lake George Park Commission Executive Director Dave Wick.
The four-day training at the Lake George Forum for the 50 seasonally employed boat inspection technicians began Monday and included background on the new program and regulations, information on invasive species, enforcement protocols, boat inspection methods and decontamination processes, with a final exam Thursday afternoon.
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On Wednesday, trainees received hands-on instruction with the Landa decontamination unit on four different types of water vessels. The unit is an industrial pressure washer adapted for boat decontamination, with attachments designed to remove and treat invasive species.
“A boater comes in and we’ll do an inspection, checking the exterior for obvious signs of vegetation. If the exterior is clean, the next step is to check the interior for standing water,” said Justin Luyke, a park ranger.
Luyke explained the various tools, including a “turbo nozzle” on wheels that can reach tricky spots underneath the boat; a high-pressure nozzle for spraying the exterior; and a low-pressure hose for the interior of the boat. Another tool helps flush water out of the engine, and a plunger-type tool covers the intake for ballast tanks, which could contain contaminated water and require treatment. During the inspection, every part of the boat must be checked.
The water must reach 140 degrees to treat the exterior and 120 degrees to treat the interior areas. Every location around the lake has a handheld gun that aims a red dot at the water to read the temperature. For decontamination, each boat will sit on a yellow mat that collects the used water. A vacuum-like hose sucks up water on the mat and filters it through the decontamination unit, recycling it for the next use.
“The inspection process is pretty quick. It depends on the complexity of the boat,” Luyk said.
Some locations — Mossy Point for example — will have more than one decontamination unit, depending on demand. Every boat inspected will be marked with a tamper-proof plastic seal. A strand of thin wire is threaded through the small green seal to fasten the boat hitch to its trailer. Boats may also be inspected when they exit Lake George, although that is not mandatory. Those boats are marked with red seals as ready to re-enter the water. If the seal is broken, the boat will require another inspection.
Through the “frozen boats” initiative, boat owners whose vessels were winterized may get a seal to verify their boats were inspected and are ready to enter the water.
The Fund for Lake George, a privately funded nonprofit organization, provided a $10,000 grant to Lake George Park Commission for training.
“They key is really prevention,” said Jessica Rubin, director of development and marketing for the Fund. “We’re so thrilled, on a day like this, to see it all coming together.”
The Fund brought in nationally renowned trainers, D and Michael Davis, whose experience includes training inspectors across the western U.S. and Canada, including at Lake Tahoe, which has a successful aquatic invasive species prevention program that serves as the model for the local one, Wick said.
“As we’ve learned from those invasive species that have gotten into Lake George — at great financial and ecological cost — the only real protection from invasives is prevention,” said Fund Executive Director Eric Siy in a news release.
D, from Las Vegas, is a contractor for the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission and teaches invasive species control in 19 western states and several Canadian provinces.
“We learned from the Great Lakes,” D said. “They were 2 1/2 decades ahead of us in fighting invasive species.”
In 2007, her mentor, Wen Baldwin, warned of zebra mussels in her home lake, Lake Mead in Nevada, but proper precautions weren’t taken and zebra and quagga mussels invaded the lake.
“They’re like zebra mussels on steroids. There is no eradication for quagga mussels. We just have to try and deal with them,” D said. “I’m glad the Lake George Park Commission is being proactive and putting together a mandatory program.”
Keeping new species, such as quagga mussels, out of Lake George is just as critical as eradicating and managing the current invasives, Wick said.
The fight against these species has cost more than
$7 million for Lake George alone, Wick said, and that doesn’t include the staff costs.
Since Asian clams were discovered in the lake in August 2010, the fight has cost about $2 million, Wick said. Another more recent aquatic invasive species, found in Lake George in 2012, is the spiny water flea. There are no known methods of controlling that species. Wick said the fight against Eurasian watermilfoil is becoming a “tremendous success story,” however, and the Park Commission has $250,000 to put toward milfoil management efforts this year.
The Fund has provided additional financial resources for training and treatment programs for nearly a decade, totaling more than $1 million.
The Fund also is a founding member of the S.A.V.E. Lake George Partnership. S.A.V.E. stands for Stop Aquatic inVasives from Entering, and the partnership includes municipal officials, scientists and conservation groups.
S.A.V.E. members committed to paying half the cost of the prevention program, more than $350,000 in 2014, while the state will pay the other half. The Fund will pay $50,000 toward S.A.V.E’s match in addition to underwriting the training program.