OUTDOORS: LeBlanc: The importance of keeping Lake Conroe healthy

Lake Conroe is one of the healthiest reservoirs in the great state of Texas, thanks to the efforts of many people.

It has taken sound biological practices by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and many more organizations and individuals who devote their time, money and efforts toward making this a reality. We are in pretty good shape when it comes to Lake Conroe.

Many people, however, seem to not understand a healthy body of water requires a balance of many living entities, including plants, fish, reptiles and insects. If any of these are eradicated or the balance is drastically disturbed, old Mother Nature will rebel. The lake will become out of balance and can become a toxic source of harmful bacteria and potential diseases.

There are two primarily foreign plants that can cause us some problems — hydrilla (water thymes) and giant salvinia, which were brought to us by the aquarium industry.

The one I fear most is giant salvinia. The rapid growth potential of this plant is staggering. One year, the coverage of giant salvinia in Toledo Bend increased 10 fold. Some folks are not as concerned as I am because they say it grows on top of the water and can be seen and sprayed, but the sprays are toxic to other native life.

There are also some bugs that are put on the growth that apparently only eat giant salvinia. This is being done where this foreign invader is advancing, but from what I understand, the plant will grow faster than the bugs can eat it.

Hydrilla, on the other hand, grows up from the bottom. It seems some folks on our lakes tend to get hydrilla mixed up with some other plants, like bushy pond weed and water star grass. Both of those are highly beneficial plants.

There are varying amounts of hydrilla in different lakes in the state, but it is under close scrutiny by the proper authorities. Lake Conroe had 1/10 of an acre come up in a cove last year, and some folks panicked. There is no need for worry, however, because the TPWD folks are aware of it and are tending to the area without destroying anymore of the native vegetation. That include the 1,200 acres of new native vegetation in the north end of the Lake.

Native plants clean the water of impurities. They provide the necessary nutrients for many beneficial organisms. They also serve as hiding places for many small creatures, and they are subject to natural native enemies to keep them under control.

Another thing folks don’t seem to understand is that most of these beneficial plants will only grow to the depth of a few feet.

Those who own property that currently borders the lake water and have some native plants along your bulkhead, if the water depth were 6-8 feet, chances are there would be no problem and the plants would go away. The method exhibiting the best approach is to dig it out a little deeper, rather than spray toxic chemicals into the water. The cost will be similar, but making the water deeper is a more permanent and environmentally friendly fix.

As I move on, let me quote a passage from the TPWD 2021 Outdoor Annual regarding destructive plants and animals that are forbidden in our waterways. It says, “This includes: plants such as hydrilla, water hyacinth, and giant salvinia; fishes such as tilapia and Asian carps (grass, silver, and bighead carp); and zebra mussels.”

The aforementioned tilapia and carp in large enough numbers can strip a lake of natural vegetation, leaving a dangerous, bacteria filled water hole, instead of a live, healthy body of water teaming with native aquatic plants and animals.

Zebra mussels have come our way from the Great Lakes and have been a plague to our nation’s waterways. One of its effects in Texas was to infest a potable municipal water system in the Austin area. The folks on that line started complaining that their water smelled and tasted fishy. It was the zebra mussel infestation.

The TPWD has come out with a procedure to address and halt, or at least slow down, the migration of harmful, foreign entities in our lakes and waterways, and it is now a law for boaters. When you pull your boat from the water you must clean, drain and dry everything.

You must remove all plants, animals and mud and thoroughly wash the boat and trailer. A quick trip to the car wash to use high-pressure spray nozzles can help clean crevices and hidden areas. Remember, too, that boats stored on infested waters may need to be professionally decontaminated.

You must pull the plug and drain all water before leaving the area, including livewells, bilges, ballast and engine cooling water.

Last, but not least, you must allow your boat to dry completely before launching in other waters, ideally for a week or more. This also includes other items such as bait bucket, ice chests and PFDs.

So folks, let’s all keep our lake safe and healthy and do our part in this ongoing battle.

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