6.10 Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) Management Program

Executive Summary

Aquatic invasive species (AIS) are present in the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District.  Species recently introduced and spreading are having significant ecological, as well as economic and recreational impacts on waters throughout the District and Minnesota.  Other invasive species of concern have been identified that may likely be introduced and survive within the region.  Public awareness of the detrimental effects of the presence of AIS has led to support for more active involvement by all levels of government to manage this issue.  The Minnehaha Creek Watershed District has developed this AIS Management Plan (“Plan”) in 2013 to articulate its approach to managing AIS over the next several years.

Among the themes of the MCWD’s 2007 Comprehensive Water Resources Management Plan are the maintenance, support, and enhancement of ecological integrity of aquatic resources.  This AIS Management Plan builds upon goals and values for the quality of waters and their aquatic ecology, and provides further definition of strategies and activities that are enabled by the Comprehensive Plan.

Purpose: The purpose of the AIS Management Plan is to guide the MCWD in the management of aquatic invasive species and, through education and awareness, prevention measures, and applied research, work with state and local partners to protect the District’s water resources from this environmental threat.

Process:  Public interest in managing AIS became more acute when zebra mussels were found in Lake Minnetonka in 2010.  During 2011, the MCWD consulted with the communities in the District, and there was broad agreement that the MCWD should take the lead on managing AIS within the 181-square-mile watershed.  In 2012, the Board of Managers formed the AIS Plan Task Force with stakeholders comprised of residents, water-oriented businesses, outdoor recreationists, and policymaker-level representatives of key local governments.  With this approach, the Board charged the Task Force with the development of the AIS Management Plan. 

The Task Force held sixteen meetings from May 2012 to February 2013.  In addition, at its meeting on August 9, 2012, the MCWD Board of Managers had over 150 people in attendance as it was presented with a proposal on an AIS inspection program by the Coalition of Minnehaha Creek Waters.  The public comments at this meeting, and at early meetings of the Task Force, reflected intense debate about the proper balance of water resource protection and public access to those water resources.  Through hard work and important leadership from Task Force members, a consensus emerged on AIS management that has the support of all stakeholders on the Task Force.  The recommendations in this Plan are the product of that consensus.

The Task Force was supported by District staff and an AIS Technical Advisory Committee, whose members largely came from the professional staffs of a variety of governmental agencies and academia.

Significant Features in the AIS Management Plan:

The Plan is organized around three goals, in order of priority:

Goal 1 – Prevention:  Implement procedures and practices to prevent new introductions    or dispersal of aquatic invasive species within the District.

The over-arching goal of the AIS Management Plan is to prevent the introduction of AIS to waters where they are not present.  This outcome means keeping waters free of AIS entirely, as well as keeping waters already infested with some invasive species from having any new AIS introduced.  Consequently, the emphasis of this plan, and in the use of District resources, is on prevention.

Prevention activities will include public information, with the use of social marketing principles; identifying and addressing the myriad pathways of introduction; and pursuing the enactment of legislation and regulation (including District rulemaking) for AIS prevention.

Goal 2 – Containment:  Develop management strategies to limit the spread of established invasive species to and from the District.

While prevention is the over-arching goal, there is the reality that AIS may be introduced and spread in the District.  Should this occur, the next goal is the containment/eradication (early detection and rapid response) of the infestation.  Strategies and actions will focus on monitoring, detecting, and responding to new incidences of AIS.

Goal 3 – Control:  Abate, and where possible, eliminate harmful ecological, economic,       social, and public health impacts resulting from the infestation of aquatic invasive species      in the District.

“Control” implies that populations of various AIS are at levels where they can be managed, and not at levels where hope must be abandoned.  Policies and goals in the MCWD 2007 Comprehensive Plan are designed around the ecological integrity of water resources within the District.  Accordingly, the District’s involvement in the long-term management of AIS present will be based on the benefit to ecological systems.  Other benefits, such as economics or recreational enjoyment, will be subordinate to the primary focus of ecological betterment.

The District will take an “all-of-the-above” approach when considering control techniques that are effective, economical, safe, and targeted to individual AIS.  The District will first inquire whether another appropriate entity will perform a control program.  In general, the District will prefer that control activities be performed by others and limit the District’s participation to technical and financial assistance.  The District will prefer to empower or involve the private sector in service delivery.

The Plan also follows several themes to support achievement of the three major goals:

Research:  The MCWD 2007 Comprehensive Plan supports research and applied research projects by the District.  Following this important strategy is also reflected in the AIS Management Plan, and anticipated research includes hard sciences as well as social sciences.  The District will also be a ready partner for pilot projects that may serve as models for regional or state-wide application.

Reliance on Partnerships:  Government agencies have become more engaged in addressing the presence of AIS in recent years, and there is wide agreement among them that no one agency or level of government has the resources or capacity to address the issue.  Intergovernmental cooperation, and the involvement of non-governmental organizations, business and residential groups and individuals, will be needed for successes in managing AIS.  The MCWD is firmly committed to a collaborative partnership approach. 

Working with Willing Partners:  Physical characteristics as well as the characteristics of the many social and political communities in the watershed are quite diverse.  Given everyone’s funding limitations and the different values among communities about the importance of AIS management, the District will perform activities where local governments and other organizations are willing to invest and work with the District to implement them.  The District, with its technical and financial resources, will work with those who are willing to achieve the goals, objectives, and implementation activities of this Plan.  In designing management activities, the District will not supplant the work of others but will complement them and/or fill gaps in what is being performed.

Adaptive Management:  This Plan is not meant to be static or prescriptive, or to limit the activities the District may consider.  It provides a framework to adapt to rapidly changing conditions.  AIS management is a relatively new field in water resource management, and new experience and evolving research will need to be incorporated to prevent and manage the presence of AIS.  It’s a journey of continuous improvement, building upon gained knowledge to reduce uncertainty, maximize the efficient use of resources, and realize more effective results.

Funding for Implementation of the Plan:  As the District needs to be flexible and to adapt to changing conditions, implementing activities that are consistent with the Plan will be made during the District’s annual budgeting process.  The Plan identifies guiding principles to consider when making those decisions, and briefly discusses funding opportunities for the District and other local interests.

The presence of AIS is almost entirely the result of introduction by human activity.  As people are responsible for AIS being within the watershed, ultimately they will need to take personal responsibility to prevent the introduction and spread of AIS.  This Plan identifies things that can be done immediately while the ethic of personal responsibility becomes a social norm.  In the meantime, following the Plan will safeguard the ecological quality and enjoyment of aquatic resources within the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District.