Cool, rainy conditions have dominated the January, 2008 weather scene. A total of 3.09 inches of rain fell in Conroe in January (compared to the average January rainfall of 4.21). The Lake level has increased from 200.47 feet above sea level on January 1 to 201.02 feet today. Please find the following information for your review:
FEBRUARY 5 MEETING WITH TPWD, SJRA, LCA AND ANGLERS:
Today, very disturbing and disappointing news was released by TPWD. In Hydrilla’s slowest growing season (the winter) and with our largest quantity of White Amur (82,000 alive White Amur), Hydrilla infested acres grew from 1,940 in December, 2007 to 2,050 in January, 2008. Don’t be misled by Hydrilla’s lack of surface coverage….IT’S GROWING MORE THAN EVER AND MAY BE WORSE THIS SUMMER THAN LAST. TPWD stated that “We did not expect these results.” An independent consultant involved with Lake Conroe’s Hydrilla infestation for the past two years stated “An increase in Hydrilla during the winter with 82,000 White Amur eating Hydrilla at a rate of 42 fish/acre is an ominous sign.” TPWD’s next scheduled survey is March, 2008.
Specific to these surveys, Caney Creek increased by 146 acres while Little Lake Creek and Lewis Creek decreased by 19 and 17 acres, respectively. The northern Cagle/Stubblefield area remained the same. TPWD reported that Hydrilla is growing an average of 2 feet tall in waters less than 8 feet deep, and is growing an average of 4 to 5 feet tall in waters greater than 8 feet deep.
As its proposed plan to address this Hydrilla increase, TPWD agreed to permit the addition of 24,000 White Amur…..increasing the White Amur stocking rate from 42 fish/acre to 50 fish/acre. TPWD has taken a “measured approach” since the two-year Lake Conroe Aquatic Management Plan was initiated. This “measured approach” was adopted, in large part, to avoid overstocking the Lake with White Amur and damaging native vegetation in the Lake. Since Hydrilla has only continued to increase throughout TPWD’s “measured approach”, TPWD has increased their stocking rate of fish/acre from 9 to 14 to 22 to 29 to 36 to 40 to 42, and now, to 50. Where and when will this end?
The LCA listened to TPWD’s presentation as well as the opinions of SJRA, the independent consultant and angling organizations. Upon processing all of this new information, the LCA determined IT DOES NOT SUPPORT THIS PROPOSAL. While the LCA does not hold a specific scientific basis for its proposal, the LCA requested that TPWD modify the stocking rate to 60 fish/acre….which would require TPWD to permit the addition of 40,000 White Amur. As no one truly knows the number of White Amur it will take to reduce Hydrilla to “40 acres or less” (I’ve removed the “by March, 2008” in TPWD and SJRA’s Management Plan as it won’t happen) while not significantly damaging native vegetation, the LCA believes a more aggressive approach is necessary NOW.
To summarize a few of the LCA’s opinions used in presenting our proposal of increasing the stocking rate to 60 fish/acre and disagreeing with TPWD’s proposal of 50 fish/acre, please find the following:
· Spring growing season will soon be upon us. This stocking represents the last opportunity to get the fish in the Lake before spring arrives. Fish stocked later in the year may not be large enough and appetite-aggressive enough to provide value in 2008.
· Given Hydrilla has increased from 470 acres to 2,050 acres as TPWD has added White Amur with a “measured approach” over the past 2 years, their approach hasn’t worked and a more aggressive approach is appropriate.
· TPWD has based their stocking permits based on the historic scientific data they have gathered from Texas lakes and other research. For some unknown reason, that science has not seemed to apply to Lake Conroe. A departure from that science seems appropriate.
· TPWD would be the first to tell you that they don’t know the correct number of White Amur it will take to control our Hydrilla infestation. Can we risk erring on the conservative side and having to add even more fish down the road?
· As stated by one attendee of today’s meeting, “Throw out science at this point and go with what we’ve experienced on Lake Conroe for two years.”
· As stated by the independent consultant today, “When old science doesn’t work, it becomes time to venture into the world of new science.”
· The potential of enduring a third consecutive year of serious Hydrilla infestation on Lake Conroe is unacceptable. If we thought having a 1,780 acre infestation in July, 2007 was bad, how will we feel about the hypothetical infestation of 3,000 acres this summer?
· And if we reach that hypothetical infestation of 3,000 acres, how many White Amur and herbicides will it take to solve the problem? And who will be expected to pay the enormous future cost of clean-up?
To this end, WE IMPLORE TPWD AND SJRA TO AGREE TO PERMIT THE STOCKING OF 40,000 WHITE AMUR AT THIS TIME AS REQUESTED BY THE LCA.
JANUARY WHITE AMUR RELEASE:
15,775 White Amur were released the week of January 21. This release represents a “mortality stocking” (meaning a replacement of the estimated number of fish which have died since the last mortality stocking) and not an increase in the number of White Amur per hydrilla infested acre. The White Amur were released as follows: 2,100 Little Lake Creek, 7,575 Lewis Creek, 2,100 Caney Creek and 4,000 Cagle/Stubblefield. The cost of these White Amur was $5.00/fish, and the cost was shared 50/50 between SJRA and the LCA.
WHITE AMUR CALCULATION:
Based on White Amur stockings to date and the estimated mortality rate of these fish of 32% per year, we would calculate that 102,000 have been placed in the Lake since 2006 and that 20,000 of these fish have died (through illness, predation by larger fish or predation by various species of birds on the Lake). This would leave 82,000 White Amur feeding upon 1,940 hydrilla infested acres, or 42 fish/acre, through December, 2007.
TPWD HYDRILLA SURVEY:
TPWD concluded its January, 2008 hydrilla survey and reported an estimated 2,052 acres of hydrilla infestation on the Lake. Previous surveys have been as follows:
· 1999….20 acres
· 2001…..80 acres
· 2004…..150 acres
· March, 2006…..470 acres
· July, 2006…..740 acres
· September, 2006…..1,200 acres
· March, 2007…..1,900 acres
· May, 2007…..1,380 acres
· July, 2007…..1,780 acres
· December, 2007…..1,940 acres
· January, 2008…..2,050 acres
NATIVE VEGETATION BEING PLANTED IN LAKE CONROE:
TPWD and SJRA have been establishing native vegetation (those plants native, but not invasive, to the Texas ecosystem) in Lake Conroe for over ten (10) years now. TPWD performs in-depth surveys to determine the quantity and type of native vegetation in the Lake to identify positive or negative trends. The Seven Coves Bass Club is a new partner in this program re-establishing native vegetation.
Most, if not all, of the plantings are done in the upper end of the Lake. The only exception to this policy would be where a homeowner group in the lower end of the Lake specifically requested plantings in their area. In questioning TPWD and SJRA about plantings in the lower end, I received this response: “Regarding planting vegetation in the lower areas of the reservoir, it would have to be a case where there is a substantial number of homeowners (or a substantial amount of shoreline owned by a few property owners) who want plants established in front of their property. In that case, we would work with the homeowners regarding establishment (species planted, cages, etc.). Otherwise, plantings will be conducted around the National Forest.”
The primary plant utilized for these plantings has been Vallisneria Americana (more commonly referred to as “tape grass”). TPWD, in conjunction with SJRA and the Corps of Engineers Lewisville Aquatic Ecosystem Research Facility, have been planting Vallisneria in Lake Conroe for over ten (10) years. TPWD states that “Although Vallisneria is established in Lake Conroe, it has caused no problems.” TPWD also sites research performed by Dr. Richard Ott (and his Doctoral) which involved the ability of Vallisneria to aid in limiting Hydrilla establishment.
Further comments from TPWD include: “Native vegetation is good for aquatic ecosystems. Native plants help prevent erosion, stabilize banks, clear the water, improve water quality, and improve fish and wildlife habitat without creating major access problems like Hydrilla does.”
In questioning TPWD about the timing of working towards native vegetation plantings BEFORE the Hydrilla, Water Hyacinth and Giant Salvinia infestations are under control, TPWD responded: “The development of a healthy native plant community is not contingent on reaching our goals for Hydrilla. In fact, as we have talked about before, there is evidence that a healthy native plant community can help slow the spread of Hydrilla.” It would be correct that the Aquatic Management Plan for Lake Conroe for the two (2) years ending March, 2008 states goals of “reducing Hydrilla to 40 acres or less by March, 2008” AND establishing a healthy native plant community.
When asked who would pay for clean-up if native plantings got out-of-control and became invasive, TPWD responded “TPWD will not ask the LCA for any money to clean-up native vegetation. Except in very limited areas, it has been our experience that native vegetation simply does not create the same problems created by Hydrilla.”
What does the LCA think about all of this? Among our concerns are the introduction of plants which may become invasive. During previous attempts to establish native vegetation on Lake Conroe, both Musk Grass and Southern Naiad (bushy pondweed) were present as either plants and/or seeds in the transplant materials. These pioneer species benefited from the protected environment of cages and spread very rapidly. It is arguable that further native plantings may have similar unintended consequences. If you’ve had either Musk Grass or Bushy Pondweed around your lakefront, you can attest to the invasive nature of these plants and the detriment caused to navigation, aesthetics and lake use.
SUMMARY OF LCA ANNUAL MEETING
Held January 18, 2008
LCA MEMBER VOTE ON 2008 LCA BOARD OF DIRECTORS:
We’d like to thank our Members for their active participation in returning proxies for 2008 LCA Board of Director elections. Of the 1,072 proxies mailed to our Members, 319 completed proxies were received (far more than last year and more than enough for a valid election per the LCA By-Laws). The LCA Board accepted your nominations and presents its 2008 LCA Board of Directors as follows: Gene Barrington, Mike Bleier, Tom Butz, Dawn Cleboski, Gene Colbert, Rich Cutler, Jim Pohoski, Ben Richardson, Stan Sproba, Colin Stead and Sue Wheatley.
LCA OFFICER ELECTIONS:
Subsequent to the LCA Annual Meeting and its Directors being elected, the LCA Board voted on its 2008 Officers. The following Directors accepted those nominations as follows: Mike Bleier (President), Ben Richardson (Vice President), Tom Butz (Treasurer) and Sue Wheatley (Secretary).
AUDIT OF LCA:
The LCA has selected a local accounting firm to prepare an audit of the records of the LCA for the period September 1, 2005 through December 31, 2007. The estimated cost of this audit is $2,000, and the LCA Board felt it was money well spent to assure its Members that their contributions of over $400,000 during this period were handled properly.
Unaudited, internally-prepared financial statements for CY2006 and CY2007 reflect Member Contributions of $404,000 less $355,000 in Expenses (producing a net increase in cash of $49,000 during these two years). Expenses consisted of $253,000 for White Amur, $71,000 for Herbicide Treatments, $26,000 for Fund Raising Printing/Postage and $5,000 for Administrative Expenses (legal fees, insurance, tax preparation). We are very pleased that Administrative Expenses totaled only 1.2% of all Member Contributions. No salaries are paid by the LCA as all Officers and Directors operate on a volunteer basis.
In its somewhat dormant state throughout Winter, Hydrilla is not treated with herbicides. While Water Hyacinth can still be seen around the Lake, it is not treated during Winter months because it’s green growth will die in cold conditions. And, since Water Hyacinth reproduces through seeds thrown off by those “pretty purple flowers”, herbicide applications will do nothing to harm those seeds on the Lake bottom which can live and produce new plants for up to the next seven (7) years. Since Giant Salvinia can survive the cold Winter temperatures and reproduces through exponential leaf regeneration and fragmentation, this invasive species will be treated with herbicides during the Winter; but effective treatment can only occur on sunny, calm days (not too many of those so far).
FUND RAISING FROM OTHER-THAN-YOU:
We have seen no funding from the State of Texas. TPWD stated that funding applications totaling $150,000 have been completed by TPWD and are “sitting on desks” waiting for approval and funding. We’ll see.
Montgomery County commits $25,000 per year for Aquatic Plant Management on Lake Conroe and increased that one-time to $100,000 last year. In talking to members of Commissioners Court, the LCA has been asked to continue to provide Commissioners Court with updates on the Lake condition and funding needs for 2008. Until Spring, 2008 surveys are concluded and the level of Hydrilla infestation is determined, the LCA does not see additional funding from Montgomery County as feasible. Should the worse scenario come true and Hydrilla infestation return aggressively in the Spring, I’m confident that Judge Sadler, Commissioner Meador and the other Commissioners will appropriate funds beyond their $25,000 commitment.
The LCA regularly communicates with Senator Nichols and Representative Creighton to apprise them of the situation and the need for State funding sources. I find them very attentive to the situation and determined to identify State funds to assist with our various invasive weed infestations.
No Federal funding has been obtained.
OTHER DISCUSSION TOPICS:
In addition to the above, the following topics were discussed at the LCA Annual Meeting (and are addressed above in this Update):
· Native grasses being planted in Lake Conroe
· White Amur stockings and mortality
· Angler organizations and their position in this issue
· Expectations for February 5 meeting between TPWD, SJRA, LCA and angling organizations
Thank you for your perseverance in following the significant quantity of information provided in this Update. I will report back with you shortly once a decision is made by TPWD and SJRA on the LCA’s proposal for 40,000 White Amur. We very much appreciate your support.
Mike Bleier, President
Lake Conroe Association