In the 1990s, an unwanted intruder found its way into Geneva Lake. It was called the zebra mussel.
Warnings were issued, strategies were discussed, efforts were made. But the zebra mussel won.
We must not let that happen again with starry stonewort.
This new invader is a plant-like algae that spreads and grows into unruly underwater thickets, making it difficult for lake visitors to enjoy boating and fishing and swimming.
To hear the experts tell it, starry stonewort is a serious threat to overtake a lake and ruin water recreation wherever the invasive plant species is left unchecked.
Last year, starry stonewort took root in a lagoon on Geneva Lake.
Local and state environmentalists surveyed the lake and reported that there was no sign of the unwanted plant anywhere else. It was just growing in one lagoon by the Trinke Estates neighborhood, which is in the town of Linn on the lake’s southern shore.
That is the good news: It has not spread.
Here is the bad news: We might not have much time to do anything about it.
According to the state Department of Natural Resources, there is no record anywhere of someone successfully eradicating starry stonewort with chemicals or other conventional methods. In other lakes where the invasive plant has been found, the best people can hope for is to control it with constant maintenance.
Or they give up on their lake. And the starry stonewort wins.
Fortunately, nobody is talking about giving up on Geneva Lake.
In fact, the Geneva Lake Environmental Agency has presented a promising strategy that could succeed in removing this new intruder. The agency has proposed dredging the bottom of the Trinke Estates lagoon so as to literally rip starry stonewort out of the ground before it gets the chance to spread.
The dredging would cost money — $160,000 by some estimates — and it would create quite a mess.
But it just might save our lake.
Unfortunately, time is not on our side. Boating season is almost here. As soon as boaters rev their engines and start moving in and out of the Trinke Estates lagoon, they could unknowingly pick up starry stonewort and carry it all over Geneva Lake.
So what is the holdup with the dredging?
First, the Geneva Lake Environmental Agency does not have the $160,000 to hire a contractor. The nonprofit organization has resorted to creating a Go Fund Me page on the internet in hopes of collecting donations.
We cannot fully express our disappointment right here that protecting the environment in Wisconsin has become such a low priority that a dedicated outfit like the Geneva Lake Environmental Agency must beg for donations for a project of this importance. Suffice to say, someone needs to write this group a check.
But even if a contractor was ready to get after our starry stonewort tomorrow, there is a logistical issue, too.
A contractor would have nowhere to put the tons of sludge that would be brought up from the bottom of the Trinke Estates lagoon. It could take a couple of months for the sludge to drain before crews could haul it away for disposal — hopefully taking all of the starry stonewort with it.
Basically, a giant pile of ugly, stinky sludge needs a place to sit and dry out. It is a messy job, but someone has to do it.
So far, the Trinke Estates Homeowners Association has balked at allowing the sludge on their waterfront. And the nearby Lake Geneva Country Club has hesitated, too.
This is not the time for turfism or self-interest. Someone needs to step up and help the Geneva Lake Environmental Agency do what needs to be done to give us a fighting chance against this threat to our lake. We are talking about a couple of months of inconvenience and unpleasantness to deliver long-term benefits for the greater good.
The next boat that passes through the Trinke Estates lagoon could carry starry stonewort away and unintentionally deposit it by Riviera Beach. Or in the middle of Williams Bay. Or alongside the Abbey Resort. Or all of them.
That is what the zebra mussel has done in the past 20 years. It has spread and become a destructive nuisance throughout our beautiful lake.
We lost the battle of the zebra mussel.
Let’s get together and win this one.