Hydrilla-control efforts will be little changed

Staff Writer

Homeowners, boaters and fishermen settled Saturday on continuing to use herbicides and lower water levels as the main ways to control hydrilla in Lake Murray.

The plan, recommended by an advisory group, beached the idea of adding grass carp to the lake to battle the underwater weed but suggested testing an aquatic lawnmower.

The outcome endorsed what the state Department of Natural Resources has done to keep the pesky weed in check at the 50,000-acre lake during the past five years.

"I don't think we'll see radical change," state aquatic plants manager Steve de Kozlowski said.

Hydrilla covers 3,000 acres in the lake, mainly in its eastern half in Richland and Lexington counties. Left unchecked, strands of hydrilla will choke boat motors and entangle swimmers and water skiers.

Some members of the advisory group want the hydrilla-control efforts to include less herbicide sprayed and less drastic lake drawdowns.

"People are scared to death" that the herbicide eventually will become a danger despite repeated assurances it's safe, said Bob Bailey, executive director of the Sportsmens Coalition of South Carolina.

But there's no alternative to it, he added. And introduction of carp would worsen rather than improve fishing habitat because that species eats too much underwater greenery besides hydrilla, he said.

Some members on the advisory group want lake levels to remain up to four feet higher in the autumn, saying anything lower hampers recreation.

Major drawdowns should be at regular intervals instead of decided yearly, Steve Bell of Lake Watch said. His group favors higher levels year-round for boaters.

But uncertain weather and rainfall, and the up-and-down need for hydropower produced at the lake's dam make it impossible to guarantee water levels in advance, de Kozlowski said. "Predictability on drawdowns would be nice," he said. "I wish it were that easy to do."

Advocates of a hydrilla harvester are encouraged that the advisory group left the door open to its use. "I think it's really going to come eventually," marina operator M.L. Snelgrove of Lexington said.

Left unanswered is how the $500,000 cost for equipment and staff could be paid for during a state financial squeeze. Natural resources officials also say a harvester, which cuts the weed underwater, is ineffective and could leave cuttings that spread the weed more than remove it.

The endorsement of continued use of herbicides and drawdowns to keep the weed from becoming a bigger nuisance is a compromise, some members of the advisory group said.

"We can't all have exactly what we're looking for," fisherman Jamie Patterson of Batesburg-Leesville said.

Tim Flach can be reached at (803) 771-8483 or at tflach@thestate.com.