If you know how much damage invasive species can do to a lake, and how nearly impossible it is to eradicate them once established, you know how important it is to keep them out.
But that’s easier said than done, especially with a lake like Lake George that draws boats from 193 different bodies of water in 15 states and has 100 boat launches. The Lake George Park Commission’s plan for a mandatory $40 inspection fee to prevent the introduction of at least four new invasive species (the lake already has five, including zebra mussels, Eurasian milfoil and, since last year, spiny waterfleas) deserves enthusiastic support.
The damage includes crowded-out native plants, decreased light and oxygen, and algae blooms. And the cost of removal — or, more realistically, containment — is high, whether through chemicals, machines, or by hand. For Lake George the cost has been more than $7 million over the last 25 years, and is now $1 million each year.
There are other costs as well, not only environmental but economic ones, including diminished property values and property tax receipts, and decreased recreation and tourism revenues. It’s not nearly as pleasant to boat or fish in an infested lake, or to live along one.
Currently Lake George, like most other lakes, relies on outreach campaigns and voluntary compliance by boaters. No matter how good these programs are, though, it’s only a matter of time before other new species are introduced after hitching a ride on the propeller or other part of a boat. On the other hand, states with mandatory inspection laws, like Colorado, Minnesota and California for Lake Tahoe, have had success keeping new invasive species out.
Under the plan the Lake George Park Commission is considering, an inspection would be required each time a trailered boat enters the lake — unless there’s an intact seal showing that the boat hasn’t been in any other body of water since it left Lake George. Any boat that didn’t pass the inspection would be decontaminated.
The $40 inspection fee wouldn’t cover all the costs of the $700,000-a-year program, so other sources — such as county sales taxes, hotel occupancy taxes, increased boat and dock fees, and federal grants — would be needed. But the costs of doing nothing would be far greater.