WILLIAMS BAY — The fight against a new invasive species that is threatening Geneva Lake is taking local environmental protection efforts to a new realm: crowdfunding.
Faced with costs that could exceed $150,000, the Geneva Lake Environmental Agency is planning to solicit donations on the Go Fund Me website to finance its effort against the “starry stonewort” invasive plant.
The non-profit environmental agency based in Williams Bay hopes to conduct dredging in a lagoon where starry stonewort has been detected, plus reach out to boaters with public education to prevent a spread of the unwanted algae.
Ted Peters, director of the environmental agency, said although he expects some state funding to be available, he hopes the general public will offer donations via Go Fund Me in the interest of protecting Geneva Lake from environmental damage.
“I heard they’re very successful,” he said of crowdfunding campaigns. “We’ve never had to do any kind of aggressive fundraising.”
Go Fund Me is a popular site for soliciting public donations to support charitable efforts — also known as crowdfunding — typically to benefit families hurt by tragedy or children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Peters said he plans to kick off a Go Fund Me drive to battle starry stonewort on Geneva Lake after he gauges whether homeowners near the Trinke Estates lagoon would support a dredging program along their lakefront.
Starry stonewort, which was discovered in the Trinke lagoon last year, is an algae that can spread quickly and can disrupt a lake’s recreational activities, as well as taking over native plants and disturbing breeding areas for fish.
Gregory Trush, a member of the Geneva Lake Environmental Agency board of directors, said he hopes the Go Fund Me drive will raise significant funding and attract the attention of people in the area who recognize the importance of protecting the lake from invasive species.
“People love their lake,” Trush said. “I think there would be considerable interest.”
Communities around Geneva Lake are doing their part in the starry stonewort effort by mapping out different methods for educating boat owners this spring and summer about the importance of not spreading starry stonewort by allowing it to get stuck on their vessels.
Williams Bay village officials have discussed distributing reminders at local boat launches, or possibly erecting signs to alert boat owners to keep their vessels clean of plants and other debris.
Village Administrator Jim Weiss told village trustees at a Feb. 13 meeting that although boat launches already are cluttered with signage, the fight against starry stonewort is urgent enough to warrant special action to reach boat owners.
“We can try something different,” Weiss said.
Peters has also enlisted Lake Geneva, Fontana and other communities in the public education effort.
The idea is to prevent starry stonewort from spreading throughout Geneva Lake while also working to eradicate it by dredging the first known spot where it has put down roots.
“We’ve got to educate the boaters,” Peters said. “We need to really get the message out.”
Officials suspect it was a boater who unknowingly transported starry stonewort into the Trinke Estates lagoon, where it was first discovered last summer by a private consultant working in the lake. The Geneva Lake Environmental Agency later confirmed the discovery, but determined that there was no sign of starry stonewort anywhere outside the lagoon, located in the town of Linn.
It is the first known detection of the invasive plant anywhere in Walworth County.
The Geneva Lake Environmental Agency is working with the Trinke Estates Homeowners Association to plan a dredging program this spring.
Tim Cavanagh, president of the homeowners association, said his group of about 40 property owners is eager to hear details of the program and to educate its neighborhood on the starry stonewort issue.
“We’re hopeful that we’ll reach a consensus on the best way to go about this,” Cavanagh said.
Peters said his agency needs the neighborhood’s support because the dredging would cause a disruption for boaters and others in the lagoon. About 2,000 cubic yards would be dredged from the bottom of the lagoon, then left to drain nearby before being hauled away to be buried in a gravel pit.
The whole process could take several weeks and could require homeowners to tolerate a large and smelly pile of sludge on their lakefront, Peters said.
Cost estimates have run as high as $160,000.
The environmental agency hopes to get $20,000 from the state Department of Natural Resources. If the Go Fund Me drive is unsuccessful at raising the rest, Peters might seek funding from local communities around the lake.
The alternative to dredging would be to wait until starry stonewort blooms during the summer and then attack it with chemical treatments, which might not be as effective as dredging.
Experts say there is no known method of eradication that has ever been proven to remove starry stonewort.
Peters said he is hopeful that dredging will work, because the plant seems to be isolated in a relatively small area where environmentalists can hit it head-on.
“We have a unique window here,” he said. “We have it cornered.”