Maine’s many lakes may get some added protection to help block invasive plants and animals that pose a growing risk as more and more recreational boaters head to the state.

With more than 12 million users annually, the chance of people hauling in boats that have foreign species lodged in their ballast tanks and bilges is becoming a serious concern for lawmakers.

Hoping to reduce the risk, independent state Rep. Walter Riseman of Harrison and other legislators are pushing a measure he calls the “Pull the Plug Law” that would require boaters to drain everything from vessels, trailers and other equipment whenever they remove a boat from an inland body of water.

Milfoil cleanup efforts underway last summer at Jug Stream and Cobbosseecontee Lake. Some legislators are proposing the “Pull the Plug Law” that would require boaters to drain everything from their vessels, trailers and other equipment when removing a boat from the water.  Image courtesy of the Friends of the Cobbossee Watershed

Riseman said it is a low-cost, common-sense approach that should boost the effort to keep creatures like spiny water fleas and zebra mussels out of Maine’s lakes.

“How often can you pass a bill that adds a level of protection to one of our most important publicly-owned natural resources — our lakes and ponds — with virtually no cost or inconvenience?” asked Susan Gallo, executive director of Maine Lakes, which represents 80 lake associations and 2,500 individual members.

“How can you possibly argue against asking boaters to take one easy, simple step to protect this important resource?” Gallo wondered during a recent hearing on the bill by the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee.

Mary Berger of Bremen, who volunteers as a boat inspector, told legislators it is “frightening to me to realize that many people who enjoy our waters” have no idea what’s needed to protect them.

She said one evening at Biscay Pond, she met two riders on Jet Skis who were trying to hit as many lakes as possible during their time in Maine, including some that no doubt already have invasive species.

“We know we are in danger,” she said.

Roger Crouse, general manager of the Kennebec Water District, said it’s a key issue for drinking water as well.

“Maintaining a high-quality source water supply is the first line of defense in protecting public health and keeping treatment costs manageable,” he told legislators. “Invasive aquatic plants represent a significant risk to water quality and aquatic life in Maine’s lakes, ponds, rivers and streams.”

“If we don’t act aggressively now, it will only be a matter of time before our favorite lakes run out of luck,” said state Rep. Tavis Hasenfus, a Readfield Democrat.

Hasenfus said the best way to prevent an infestation from invasive species is to keep them from getting into Maine’s lakes to begin with.

“The mild inconvenience of draining one’s boat is a small ask considering the dire consequences that could result from a fragment of an invasive plant or animal being left in a vessel and bilged into one of our lakes,” the lawmaker said.

The Marine Retailers Association of the Americas and the National Marine Manufacturers Association, which represent most boat sellers, said invasive aquatic species cost the nation $120 billion annually. They urged legislators to address the issue and vowed to work with boat owners to help implement it.

Lysa Frazier of Oxford said requiring boaters to drain any water when they leave a Maine lake “would only take a few moments of the boaters’ time while providing a much-needed layer of risk reduction from invasive plants” that are a proven threat.

Once species like Eurasian watermilfoil get into a lake, it can take thousands of dollars and considerable time to try to eradicate them.

Frazier, who volunteers at boat ramps to check incoming and outgoing vessels, said that boaters “without fail” are “helpful and want to do the right thing for the water they enjoy.”

“I’m sure boaters would not find this requirement, which would help protect so much of what they love, to be onerous,” Frazier said.

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