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CLWA suspends Eurasian watermilfoil treatment for 2020

On July 28 the CLWA executive committee made the difficult decision to cancel its plans to begin control of the invasive Eurasian watermilfoil in Crystal Lake this year.

The CLWA had completed thorough and complex preparations for this project over the past two years: carefully mapping the infestations, researching the various control techniques being used throughout the United States, selecting a licensed and highly recommended professional applicator, obtaining all required permits from the state of Michigan (EGLE), and contacting over 150 riparians whose property would be involved in order to obtain their written permissions. The treatment will include innovative aerial drone guided application, which insures placement accuracy and facilitates minimal product use.

The planned project was publicized widely in the local press and legal notices were placed in the Benzie County Record Patriot.




Despite this preparation – fully transparent and fully in compliance with all local, state and federal regulations – a local resident objected to the planned treatment and retained a Traverse City lawyer who contacted CLWA on June 23 (one day before the first treatment was scheduled) threatening legal action if it proceeded.

Consequently the June treatment was postponed as the CLWA made efforts to address the individual’s concerns and some misconceptions. No resolution was reached by late July, and the resident continued to threaten legal action.

The process for treating the milfoil is highly dependent on its growth cycle: to be fully effective, the first treatment must take place early in its summer growth, followed by a second treatment about a month later. Because of the delays caused by the legal dispute, the CLWA’s invasive species experts reluctantly concluded that it was now too late this year to begin the treatment process in order to obtain optimal results.

The CLWA takes its responsibility to "Protect Crystal Lake Now for Generations to Come" seriously. Our plan to treat invasive Eurasian watermilfoil is designed to do exactly that. There is danger in delaying treatment, as the plant can spread and hybridize, making it much more difficult and expensive to control.

The CLWA would like to thank all the property owners who provided their permission to treat the milfoil on their lakebeds and for all the support we have received from the community as a whole. Over the next months the CLWA will continue to monitor the invasives for spread and carry out DNA testing in regard to hybridization. It will be ready to undertake the necessary control treatment in 2021.



CLWA annual members meeting held on July 18 -- WATCH THE FULL VIDEO

CLWA members met via Zoom on July 18 for the 2020 Annual Members Meeting. President Dave Wynne presented a comprehensive report on current programs and Treasurer Ron Ahrns detailed the allocation of CLWA's financial resources. One highlight was an update on the current success of the swimmer's itch control program and related research projects. Election of new officers and board members had taken place by mail ballot, and Nominating chair Susan Kirkpatrick announced the results.

Attendees had the opportunity to ask questions at the conclusion of the presentations: many were concerned about the recent postponement of the treatment of invasive Eurasian watermilfoil.

A video recording of the meeting is AVAILABLE HERE.

To read the draft minutes of the meeting CLICK HERE.



Merganser brood relocation completed for 2020 -- WATCH VIDEO

CLWA's team has now finished trapping and relocating all the merganser broods that nested on Crystal Lake this summer. Over a month's time, completing work on July 8, they captured 10 broods Including 8 hens and 81 ducklings. All were removed to other locations where the swimmer's itch parasite they carry will not be a problem for swimmers and lake dwellers. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has approved these sites as suitable for this species.

Watch the Mergansers being rounded up here

 As most Crystal Lakers now know, merganser ducks are the avian host for the parasite that causes swimmer's itch. The removal of the birds breaks the cycle of infection, thus reducing the incidence of local swimmer's itch. Over the past three years that CLWA has carried out this program, cases of swimmer's itch have continuously decreased.

Much of the success of this program is due to the active response of the Crystal Lake community, who  have assiduously reported merganser brood sightings in their area. The CLWA is grateful for your participation and asks for your continuing support, so that the progress being made against swimmer's itch can be maintained into the future.

Final reports on CLWA's swimmer's itch research projects this year will be posted here when they are completed.



CLWA plans treatment of invasive Eurasian watermilfoil

The CLWA’s comprehensive three-year (2016-2018) survey of the aquatic plants in Crystal Lake revealed a generally healthy lake, and identified Eurasian watermilfoil (“EWM”, Myriophyllum spicatum) as the only invasive plant species currently present. The invasive here is limited in extent – just 6.05 acres of Crystal Lake’s total area of about 10,000 acres, primarily in the east end. The CLWA will begin treatment late this spring in order to halt the spread. Most authorities recommend treatment before it reaches an advanced stage where control becomes impossible. CLWA will pay costs, estimated at up to $10,000.

EWM is widespread in Michigan and Crystal’s situation is much better than many lakes in the state. The highest density is found at the entire drop-off surrounding the Beulah village boat launch, where it was likely originally introduced by itinerant boats. There is intermittent colonization along the southeast shore up to and past the DNR launch and around Railroad Point into Onkeonwe Bay. Additional colonies are established at the Lobb road-end launch but none west of the Disciples of Christ Conference Center on South Shore Rd. The west end and north shore appear to be virtually EWM free. DNA analysis shows that Crystal’s milfoil fortunately has not yet hybridized into variant species for which effective treatments are not available.

None of these colonies has yet begun to interfere with recreational activities, but left unchecked, EWM can out-compete native beneficial plants, and overwhelm all other lake biology including fish and amphibians. It forms a dense canopy of vegetation that blocks light from native aquatic plants. It can grow so thickly that it requires mechanical harvesters to clear the top few feet of water for a short period of time before it grows back, interfering drastically with recreational boating, swimming and fishing.

After thorough investigation of all available treatment methods, CLWA has determined that treatment with chemical herbicides is the most cost effective and suitable one for the existing conditions on Crystal Lake. The most widely used treatment, it is quick and has proven successful in controlling (but not totally eliminating) the invasive plant. The specific agents used for EWM, 2,4-D or Triclopyr, do not affect the native plants or animals of the lake. They are fully registered by the EPA, EGLE, and MDA for aquatic use in the State of Michigan. Both have undergone comprehensive testing and decades of safe usage in U.S. waters.

To perform the treatment, CLWA has retained Clear Water Lake Management, Inc., of Rochester MI, a professional pest management contractor, licensed by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD). A boat-based technician will dispense the product in a controlled fashion directly on the plants at close range and it sinks to the lakebed. The process will be guided in real time by aerial drone photography that facilitates precise placement of the product without excess exposure.  

Effective treatment usually requires two treatments per year in our climate. The first treatment will take place on Wednesday, June 24 (weather permitting), and the second on July 29. Residents and property owners will receive notice of the dates for the treatment. To insure maximum safety, swimming will be restricted for 24 hours in the immediate treatment area. Monitoring results over time will be needed: many lakes that have a regular program for control.

The use of herbicide in inland lakes requires an Aquatic Nuisance Control Permit from the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE), which must be obtained for the specific project by the applicator. To obtain the permit, the riparian landowners whose lake bottomland will be treated must give their written permission.

Much of the area to be treated is under public ownership of Beulah Village, the Michigan DNR, and Benzie County: these entities have all given their appropriate permissions. The CLWA is now contacting the affected private riparians to explain the proposal and request their agreement.

The CLWA Aquatic Plant Survey was led by CLWA board member Jim Hamp, assisted by the drone technology of Zero Gravity Aerial, and conducted under the auspices of the Michigan Cooperative Lakes Monitoring Program. The identification and control of invasive species has been a long-time concern of the CLWA, leading to the construction of the boat washing station at the Mollineaux Road launch site in 2013.

For more information on Eurasian watermilfoil, its threats and treatment, see the following sources:

Michigan Invasive Species: Eurasian Watermilfoil

State of Michigan’s Status and Strategy for Eurasian Watermilfoil Management (DEQ)

Weed Risk Assessment for Myriophyllum spicatumL.(Haloragaceae) – Eurasian watermilfoil (Michigan Department of Agriculture)



Water quality testing results for 2019 now available

As part of the Michigan Cooperative Lakes Monitoring Program, the CLWA sponsors comprehensive scientific testing of Crystal Lake’s water. Monitoring provides advance warning, so that early action can be taken to protect Crystal Lake. The latest results are consistent with past years and show no significant problems. The full data report is available HERE.  The Benzie Conservation District carries out the testing on CLWA’s behalf, continuing the practice of water testing that was established by CLWA’s predecessor organizations decades ago. This invaluable body of data enables CLWA and other lake stewards to detect water quality degradation at an early stage, before any problems become extensive and irreversible.



Swimmer's Itch Data from Congregational Assembly Beach 2019

The Congregational Summer Assembly beach, on the southwest corner of Crystal Lake, has been producing the most complete and accurate data on the occurrence of swimmer's itch since 2013. The latest statistics, from the 2019 season, have now been analyzed and summarized by Al Flory of the CLWA Swimmer's Itch Partnership. Flory's report emphasizes two important conclusions: incidence of swimmer's itch is higher when there are onshore winds and during the morning hours. There is also evidence that swimmer's itch on Crystal Lake may be stabilizing or decreasing.

Read the full report here.



Aerial shoreline survey completed

Zero Gravity Aerial of Traverse City completed a total shoreline survey of Crystal Lake during the summer of 2019. An initial high flyover looked at shoals to identify obvious changes like aquatic plant beds or human disturbance. Then the drone took detailed videos of each riparian shoreline from an altitude of about 30 feet. This survey will develop a visual benchmark for future comparison, and identify lakeshore areas of concern. Suggestions for improvement can be discussed collaboratively with lake property owners to encourage changes that will result in a healthier lake.

Features that may be cause for concern include: erosion of beach front, ice damage, invasive plants (for example cladophora, purple loosestrife, phragmites), sea walls and other shore hardening techniques, lawn too close to the lake, drain pipes and drainage ditches. An important part of the project is for the CLWA to educate riparians about property management practices that preserve Crystal's water quality.




Merganser trapping completed for 2019

CLWA's merganser trapping team completed the removal of all broods from Crystal Lake by the end of July.  The final count was 10 broods (one without the hen) and a total of 68 ducklings, 77 birds in all. This compares to 16 broods and a total of 143 birds captured in 2018. The team carried out a full lake survey on August 14, and confirmed that no more mergansers were present.

The mergansers were relocated to several different Michigan Department of Natural Resources approved sites in northern Michigan, where the environment had been judged suitable for this species and where the snail host for producing swimmer's itch was not present.

Much of the success of this program is thanks to the active responses of the Crystal Lake community, who reported merganser brood sightings that began in mid-June. The CLWA is grateful for your participation and asks for your continuing support, so that the progress being made against swimmer's itch can be maintained into the future.

Look for additional reports on swimmer's itch incidence and snail infection rates in the near future, after final analyses are completed.



CLWA annual members meeting held on July 20

A large crowd of over 100 attended the 2019 CLWA annual members meeting on July 20. President Dave Wynne reviewed current programs and Treasurer Ron Ahrns described allocation of financial resources. The Crystal Circle Award was presented to Ted Fisher for his ten years of leadership in combating swimmer's itch. Jim Hamp, CLWA board member, summarized the results of the 3-year aquatic plant survey that was completed last year. Dennis Wiand of Zero Gravity Aerial described the methods that he has used to conduct a shoreline survey of Glen Lake using digitally enhanced aerial drone photography. The featured speaker, Glen Lake biologist Rob Karner, discussed how his lake association is using the survey data to manage and protect the lake. A similar survey is being carried out this summer on Crystal Lake.

New board members and officers were elected. READ THE DRAFT MINUTES HERE.



New Michigan Boating Law to prevent introduction of invasive species

A new Michigan Boating Law that aims to prevent the introduction of invasive aquatic plants and animals goes into effect on March 21, 2019. An amendment to the state Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act 451 of 1994, the new law prohibits: the launch or transport of watercraft and trailers with aquatic plants attached; the transport of watercraft without draining all water from bilges, ballast and live wells; and the release of unused bait into the water. Violation of the law is a state civil infraction, subject to fines. This law encourages boat washing and thorough inspection of all kinds and sizes of water craft.

For the full text of the law CLICK HERE



Final report on 2018 swimmer's itch control program

Swimmer's Itch Control LLC, who carried out CLWA's swimmer's itch program during the summer of 2018, has now submitted its final report. The conclusions strongly support the preliminary results observed during  summer activities, and point the way toward the continuing efforts that will be needed in the future. To read the full report, click HERE.

The 2018 program consisted of several components: trapping and relocation of all common merganser broods on Crystal Lake (a total of 16 broods, 143 birds); assessment of lake-wide snail infection by collection and analysis of 2112 Stagnicola emarginata snails; analysis of 40 lake water samples by qPCR technique to detect presence of swimmer's itch-causing parasites; collection of avian schistosome worms from three breeding merganser hens; and training two local individuals in trapping and relocation techniques. This was the second year for trapping and relocation of all broods on the lake, and once again the riparian community proved to be extremely helpful by reporting sightings of broods.

The snail infection rate showed a 65% decrease from that found in the lake-wide snail assessment carried out in 2016. The qPCR analysis of the water samples detected the presence of the parasite species T. stagnicolae, suggesting that common mergansers are the only bird species responsible for swimmer's itch infection on Crystal Lake. These tests also showed higher concentration of parasites at two specific locations on the lake.

While numbers of actual swimmer's itch cases reported to the SIS website varied little from those reported in 2017, this can likely be ascribed to higher awareness of the availability of this feedback mechanism. Anecdotal evidence from all around the lake, including the detailed records kept at the Congregational Asssembly Beach, suggested that the number of cases was significantly reduced and seemed to be milder in impact.

In order to maintain the progress made to date, it will be necessary to continue the trapping and relocation of merganser broods into future summers. The two trained local individuals are now qualified to carry this out. CLWA will also continue to participate in various swimmer's itch research projects, some under the auspices of the Michigan Swimmer's Itch Partnership, so that swimmer's itch will cease to be a problem on Crystal Lake.



Benzie area students join 26th annual Walkabout in the watershed

On October 9 the CLWA conducted its 26th annual experiential educational project for middle school students, the Crystal Lake Walkabout. Sixth grade classes from Benzie Central and Frankfort/Elberta public schools visited locations around Crystal Lake to learn about the ecology of the watershed and the ways its qualities can be threatened. One aim is to foster appreciation for the important role that the watershed plays for the whole community, and to foster a sense of responsibilitty for its preservation. Some of the topics covered were water chemistry, invasive species, and swimmer's itch. A new feature this year was the participation of an aerial drone from Zero Gravity Aerial, which demonstrated how aerial photography is assisting the CLWA aquatic plant survey of Crystal Lake. Experts from the Benzie Conservation District and the NW Michigan Invasive Species Network led the students through hands-on exercises with the support of the Crystal Lake Walkabout Field Notebook, a specially designed workbook that each student received. Two dozen volunteers from the local community, including a large contingent from the Benzie Sunrise Rotary, helped the day move smoothly.

For more information, see the main Walkabout web page.



CLWA completes aquatic plant survey of Crystal Lake

In early August 2018 the CLWA completed the final phase of its comprehensive, three-year survey of the aquatic plants in Crystal Lake. Under the direction of board member Jim Hamp, and assisted by volunteers and the drone technology of Zero Gravity Aerial, the survey has provided an assessment of the established native species and the extent and types of invasive plants. The full analysis of this data over the coming months will provide the basis for future action.

The 2018 survey focused on the north shore and showed that aquatic invasives in Crystal Lake are still relatively limited in comparison to many other Michigan Lakes. Eurasian watermilfoil predominates, concentrated on the east end around the Beulah public boat launch, with a few other small patches.

Hamp estimates that the total amount of milfoil present is no more than 5 acres, which should be manageable with proper treatment in the future. Unless controlled, invasive plants can easily out-compete and dominate native species of plants, radically changing the health of the ecosystem of the lake.

One concern is that Crystal is very deep in some areas, and these locations are not reachable by current survey methods (either rake toss from a boat or aerial drone). Recent discoveries in Higgins Lake suggest that certain invasives may be present in these depths, which should be examined by additional methods.

The CLWA Aquatic Plant Survey was conducted under the auspices of the Michigan Cooperative Lakes Monitoring Program and was intended to update a study done in 2008. It aims to compare the amount and type of weeds now to those found in the earlier work, and determine if beds are beginning or expanding. The identification and control of invasive species has been a long-time concern of the CLWA, leading to the construction of the boat washing station at the Mollineaux Road launch site in 2013.

For more resources on invasive species, go to: https://crystallakewatershed.org/water-quality/invasive-species



CLWA annual members meeting held on July 21

A large crowd of about 120 attended the 2018 CLWA annual members meeting on July 21. President Dave Wynne surveyed current programs and Treasurer Ron Ahrns described allocation of financial resources. The Crystal Circle Award was presented to Edward Hoogterp, past CLWA president, for his years of service and leadership. Jim Hamp, CLWA board member, and Dennis Wiand, Zero Gravity Aerial, provided information on the CLWA aquatic plant survey of Crystal Lake, which will be completed this year. Dr. Randall DeJong of Swimmer's Itch Solutions LLC described the work of merganser trapping and relocation that his company is conducting and presented preliminary results showing considerable success. A full report on this project will be posted here in the fall. New board members and officers were elected. READ THE DRAFT MINUTES HERE.



Final report on swimmer's itch control for summer 2017

CLWA contracted with Swimmer's Itch Solutions LLC to conduct swimmer's itch control activities on Crystal Lake during summer of 2017. It concentrated on trapping merganser broods and moving them to other waters where the swimmer's itch parasites are not present. By reducing one of the parasite hosts, the cycle that releases the parasites into Crystal is broken and swimmer's itch will be decreased. Glen and Higgins Lakes has already had positive results with these methods.

The public greatly assisted the success of this program by reporting sightings of merganser broods. As a result, SIS captured a total of 14 broods (including 116 ducklings) which have been relocated to Lake Michigan or Lake Huron. By late July, all merganser broods had been removed from Crystal Lake. This reduction in the merganser poplulation is expected to result in a lower infection rate in 2018. To read the final report on the summer's work, CLICK HERE



Michigan Lake and Stream Associations names CLWA "Lake Association of the Year"

The CLWA received the Michigan Lake and Stream Associations' "Lake Association of the Year" award at the MLSA's 2017 annual conference, held at Crystal Mountain Resort on April 21-22.The citation recognized the CLWA for its "outstanding leadership, teamwork and dedication to preserving and protecting Michigan's freshwater heritage for future generations." During the conference, the CLWA hosted an exhibit booth that featured its ongoing survey of aquatic plants on Crystal Lake, and highlighted other programs such as boat washing and the annual school Walkabout.



SICON LLC reports on 2016 swimmer's itch research program

During the summer of 2016, CLWA contracted with SICON LLC to implement a multi-faceted pilot program of swimmer's itch research and assessment on Crystal Lake. In September they submitted a report to the CLWA on their season's work, which includes several important conclusions:

  • Avian Schistosome Species Assessment

          Only one species of snail (Stagnicola emarginata) harbors the SI parasite. The primary waterfowl carrying SI parasites is the common merganser.

  • Whole-Lake Snail Infection Rate Assessment

          The severity of SI presence, as reflected in the infected snails, is generally low in comparison to other northwest Michigan inland lakes for which data exists. However, the ten sites around the lake that were sampled varied widely in the severity of their snail infection rate. The factors that determine this variability have not yet been identified.

The full report is available here. Additional results from lab analyses of cercariae and lake water are expected in the coming weeks.

SICON LLC, led by Dr. Curt Blankespoor from the University of Michigan and Ron Reimink, a biologist, is an organization that carries out research on swimmer’s itch and conducts control programs on inland lakes. It has previously provided effective swimmer's itch control programs for Glen and Higgins lakes. SICON’s website includes information on swimmer’s itch and control methods and provides a system for reporting SI cases.

CLWA is now evaluating the results of SICON’s 2016 program to decide whether it should be expanded into a broader control program during the summer of 2017.

Map showing sites where SICON collected snail samples.



Approved Watershed Plan points the way to future protection of Crystal Lake

The never-ending work of protecting northwest Michigan’s water received a major boost in September 2016 with federal approval of the Betsie River/Crystal Lake Watershed Management Plan. The document calls for investing more than $17 million in projects to protect lakes and streams in the 240-square-mile watershed, which extends from Frankfort Harbor on Lake Michigan to Interlochen and Mayfield Township in Grand Traverse County.

In its approval, the United States Environmental Protection Agency did not make any review comments, an indication of a "very good plan," according to district representatives of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, who also judged it a "well-written document that provides an appropriate mix of both broad and focused actions needed to protect the watershed's environmental quality."

This achievement marks a transition – not an end to the process – said plan co-author Ed Hoogterp, past-president of the Crystal Lake & Watershed Association (CLWA). “In the planning stage, the Steering Committee identified problems in the watershed and developed strategies for addressing them,” Hoogterp said. “Now, we move to the next phase, where we work to put the plans into action. This approval means the state and federal folks agree with our priorities and are ready to help. But the responsibility to make it happen still rests with our local communities.”

While the overall quality of the watershed is good, the 450-page plan calls for spending to address such ongoing problems as eroding bridges and culverts. pollution from fertilizers and septic systems, bacterial contamination on public beaches, swimmer’s itch, and the spread of aquatic invasive species. It also recommends protection of resources including groundwater, wetlands, forested slopes and other sensitive sites which can have an impact on water quality.

The WMP was completed through a $162,000 grant to Networks Northwest (formerly the Northwest Michigan Council of Governments) with CLWA as a subcontractor. Partners represented on the Steering Committee included the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, Conservation Resource Alliance, Benzie Conservation District, Green Lake and Duck Lake Association, Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, Friends of Betsie Bay, and state and local government agencies. CLWA President Joel Buzzell chaired the Steering Committee, while Hoogterp and Networks Northwest regional planner Scott Gest compiled the maps, data and other plan elements for review by the Steering Committee.

Watershed Planning is a requirement of the federal Clean Water Act. Approval by EPA means that implementation of the plan will be eligible for state and federal grant funding over the 10-year life of the document. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality endorsed the WMP earlier this summer.

The Betsie River/Crystal Lake Watershed Management Plan may be viewed or downloaded at the Networks Northwest website. Printed copies will be distributed to libraries and township agencies.