Milfoil is relentless. Unlike the people fighting to eradicate the invasive plant from Maine lakes, variable-leaf milfoil never has to sleep or take a day off. All it takes is one plant and some sunlight, and soon milfoil is everywhere, congesting waterways and choking out native species.
That’s why it’s important to stay on top of the problem. A number of groups in the Belgrade Lakes region are doing just that, and this year they are asking for additional help from residents of surrounding communities.
It is a difficult time for local budgets, to say the least, and residents voting on spending measures have a lot to consider. In an area that depends on the health of its lakes, however, residents should support the eradication of milfoil at whatever level they can afford, and they should realize that this is a long-term fight requiring annual contributions of some kind for years to come.
The decisionmaking starts Friday in Belgrade, which spent almost $30,000 this year on lake health programs. For next year, a secret ballot question will ask residents whether they want to spend an additional $38,500 on various milfoil programs and $6,800 in anti-erosion efforts.
Sidney voters, on March 22, will be asked to chip in an additional $1,000 for milfoil removal. In Rome, residents will decide whether to spend $10,000, as the town did this year, $5,000, as recommended by the budget committee, or nothing at all.
In Oakland, requests for additional funds were turned down, and a total of $8,000 for local conservation groups — the same as the current year — will be up for a vote.
Tens of thousands of dollars, mostly from grants and private fundraising, already have been spent on local efforts to eradicate variable-leaaf milfoil, which was found in Great Meadow Stream before spreading into Great Pond.
After volunteer efforts failed to stop the invasion, local groups spent $200,000 in 2012, and again in 2013, to bring in private contractors to suck the plant out of the water in and around Great Pond.
It has worked. According to the Belgrade Lakes Association, the milfoil infestation has gotten progressively smaller with each year of harvesting.
Milfoil is clearly on the ropes in Great Pond. But there is — and always will be — more work to do.
The local conservation groups believe they can soon get the levels in the Great Pond area down to where maintenance is affordable and sustainable — somewhere between $20,000 and $40,000 a year, for removal, monitoring and boat inspections.
Other areas, including Messalonskee Lake, need attention, too, or the problem will only get worse.
The conservation groups are starting to do more of the work on their own. They are launching their own milfoil-removing boat, and in time, they say, they’ll get better and more cost-effective results without the help of contractors.
The groups will continue to raise money privately to fund their work.
The communities, however, all benefit from the lakes, not the least from the broader tax base provided by lakefront property and the dollars generated through the tourism industry. It is the responsibility of all of them to keep the lakes healthy.
(Editor’s note: An earlier version of this editorial mischaracterized when milfoil was first found in the region.)