Almost every lake association struggles with funding. They all have projects they want to get completed on their lakes, but funding, or lack thereof, oftentimes is the driver that decides what does and does not get done. Projects need to be prioritized and tackled on the basis of what "must" be done first, with other projects likely waiting longer than some would like. With some recent shake up in DNR funding, many lake associations have been looking for funding from other sources. Some have looked to their towns, some to the county, and still others have undergone a long, grueling process to form a lake district. With more organizations looking for funding, and that even more-limited funding being doled out differently, it is likely we will see more and more lake organizations looking elsewhere for funding. One such organization was represented at the Vilas County Land and Water Conservation Committee meeting recently.
Bill Lochte gave a lake association report to the Vilas County Land and Water Conservation Committee last week. While he was speaking primarily to give a report about the Eagle River Chain of Lakes Association (ERCLA), of which he is president, he also wanted to give a "heads up" to some of the county board members, who sit on that committee, that ERCLA would likely be coming to the county for help with funding AIS management projects. In the past, ERCLA had attained grants from the DNR to help with the costs associated with these projects. Now, however, there is less money in the pot and more groups asking for their share. With that being said, Lochte thought the county was a logical place to go for those missing funds.
"The county has gotten a free pass on this for the last decade," he told the committee. "I am very biased to the economic driver of the chain as it relates to our community and our county." While the lake association had yet to ask for funding from the county, and Lochte was not looking for that at the meeting, he made it clear it may come up in the near future.
He spoke about how all of the lake associations throughout the chain got together to form ERCLA in the hopes of having a better funding base from which to fight invasive species, create lake management plans and, essentially, to take care of all of their lakes. He told the committee ERCLA did just receive grant money to complete the fourth phase of their lake management planning, which means all of the lakes will then have their lake management plan in place. While it is great they have grant money to complete that step, that is only the beginning of the process. When the association looks at treating Eurasian watermilfoil, for instance, the cost can be $2,500 per acre to treat that milfoil.
"We're going to have to find a partner. You guys are our champion," Lochte said to the Land and Water Conservation Committee. "You would have to back an appeal if we came in here and said it's time that the county board - we may very well have to ask the county to step up and help us." He said he suspects ERCLA will lose DNR funding and thus will be coming to the county to foot the bill for those matching funds.
When we look at our area lakes and rivers as an economic resource, one that brings a great deal of our tourist dollars into the area, it is easy to see why so many people are out to protect our lakes and to stop aquatic invasive species (AIS) from getting into lakes where they are not yet present. Costs associated with treating AIS surely will not go down in the future - the costs associated with anything rarely do. For that reason, doing what we can to stop the spread of AIS becomes even more important. As water quality declines, it can not only affect tourism, but it can also lower property values. Once an invasive species enters a lake, there is very little chance at all to eradicate it. Prevention and early detection, although they both still cost money, are the best "bang for the buck" in that respect. Programs such as Clean Boats Clean Waters are a great help in this regard. Education, I believe, is the key, as with many things. Educating people on how to keep invasive species out of the waters they love is the first step in protecting our lakes, and keeping those costs down for the lake organizations and, in the end, all stakeholders in the Northwoods, be they full-time residents or simply visitors.
Looking ahead, it will be interesting to see how lake organizations are able to fund the projects they need to keep their lakes healthy and thriving. It will certainly take some creative thinking, I am sure, and the work of many volunteers will still be needed. But, if we all continue to do our part to keep invasives from entering lakes, and reporting new invasives as soon as we see them, perhaps we can help to keep some of the costs down, at least for the near future.
Beckie Gaskill may be reached via email at email@example.com.