LITCHFIELD — Three lake associations are banding together with increased funding requests to support more boat inspections in the effort to combat the spread of invasive plants in local waters.

The requests came from Friends of the Cobbossee Watershed, the Cobbosseecontee Lake Association (formerly known as the CYC Lake Association) and the Tacoma Lakes Association.

Association officials met with members of the Litchfield Select Board last Monday to submit a $10,600 request, up $2,600 from last year’s $8,000 appeal.

The Litchfield board did not take action on the request because the matter was brought up during a presentation.

Association officials said they need more help to fight the invasive plants, particularly Eurasian watermilfoil, which can spread quickly and devastate a lake.

Toni Pied, director of conservation at Friends of the Cobbossee Watershed, an organization dedicated to protecting the 217-square-mile drainage basin, said the request would support courtesy boat inspections at the Woodbury Pond boat launch at Tacoma Lake and at Cobbossee Lake.

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Pied updated officials on the status of the invasive plant infestation, saying there is a concentration of Eurasian watermilfoil mostly in the northern portion of Cobbossee Lake, with one plant also found last year near Farr’s Cove.

“My feeling is that if it’s there, there’s a good chance that we’re going to find it in some other places,” she said.

Pied added that European Frog-bit, a free-floating aquatic plant with leathery, heart-shaped leaves and small white flowers with three petals, is also widespread in the lake. She said it can spread, creating a large mat on the surface of the water, which blocks light from entering the water and can crowd out native species.

“Waterfowl can’t get through,” she said, “and other native plants can’t grow there.”

Along with increasing boat inspections at Monmouth and Winthrop boat launches to every day of the week in summer, Pied said the lake associations are hiring a courtesy boat inspector.

A fisherman prepares to launch his boat April 15 at Cobbossee Lake in Monmouth. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

The associations are also working with the U.S. Youth Conservation Corps, a nationwide employment program for teenagers that will work with shorefront property owners to show them the best management practices for preventing erosion and runoff from entering lakes. Pied said they also have a large plant survey team.

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“We have several positions open,” she said. “We will hire probably around 50 people this summer, which is the greatest number that we’ve ever hired. Hopefully, we can get all those people, which as you know is a bit of a challenge right now.”

This summer, the associations also expect to contact shorefront property owners to educate them on how to properly pull and remove invasive water plants. Doing so incorrectly can cause them to spread, according to Pied.

Jim Adams, president of the Tacoma Lakes Association, said the associations are also adding another day to their boat inspections this year — a six-hour shift Thursday, in addition to Friday-through-Sunday coverage.

Bill Kieltyka, president of the Cobbosseecontee Lake Association, said a fundraiser has been started, with a goal of bringing in more than $1 million over three years.

“We’re actually making very good headway on that,” he said. “We’ve got some six-figure donors that have already come forward, so we’re not standing around waiting for whatever handouts we can get, but we need the support of the towns for to accomplish what we need. We are also approaching businesses on the lake and encouraging them to help out with this.”

Kieltyka said the associations have invested almost $30,000 on a new boat the Friends of the Cobbossee Watershed can use for surveys, so they can get from the south end to the north end of the lake in a reasonable amount of time. He said the previous boat had a 20-horsepower motor, while the new, 17-foot boat is powered by a 75-horsepower outboard.

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“It’s going to be good for the divers,” he said. “We expect quite an active summer out there.”

Toni Pied, left, director of conservation for the Friends of the Cobbossee Watershed, and John Stanek, vice president of the CYC Lake Association, talk Friday about streams coming into the lake. Pied and Stanek are at the boat launch on Cobbossee Lake in Monmouth. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Pied said Friends of the Cobbossee Watershed typically performs about 10% of the state’s boat inspections each year. Last year, the group conducted about 11,000 inspections.

At last week’s Litchfield meeting, Selectmen Rick Gowell asked if there had been an increase in boat registrations since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m just thinking for their request, that ATV sales and recreations sports where people can socially distance were very high, and that might be an indicator,” he said, “or a justification for having that extra person at the boat launch, because we’re going to see more use from that.”

Adams said there have been more boats on the lake in recent years, with inspections up significantly two summers ago at the Woodbury Pond boat launch. He said the number remained high last summer.

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