Armed with state dollars, Anoka County is making strides preventing and reducing the spread of aquatic invasive species in rivers and lakes in the county.

In a report presented to the Anoka County Board last month, Parks Director Jeff Perry said watercraft violations at the 23 public boat launches in the county have shown a slight decline and no new invasive species infestations were reported in lakes.

Increased public awareness through media releases, public outreach and watercraft inspections was the reason for the drop in violations, according to Perry.

The Minnesota Legislature in 2014 put in place a new county aid program to limit the spread of aquatic invasive species with funds distributed based on the number of public water access locations in each county as well as the number of parking spaces at these sites.

With the state dollars, the county hired an aquatic invasive species coordinator, Jessica Abarca, who teaches fourth- and fifth-graders about the problem (in 2019 she conducted 23 presentations at eight area schools), attends city and county community events, works with lake associations and businesses and more.

“This is a key component of the program,” Perry said.

The state funding is also used to hire watercraft inspectors who are posted at the public water launch sites to check boats for contamination. Fifteen inspectors were on the job in 2019, and a similar number will be in place for 2020, Perry said.

They worked a total of 6,630 inspection hours and made some 16,000 watercraft inspections in 2019, according to Perry.

Violations have declined significantly since the program started in 2014.

“This is great news,” Perry said.

Volunteers are also an important component of the county program, he said.

Three years ago a zebra mussel spotter program was introduced, and now 52 volunteers regularly check the lakes.

To date, there have been no instances of zebra mussel infestation in lakes in the county, although invasive species have been found in nine lakes, the most prevalent being Eurasian watermilfoil, Perry said.

The county also works with lake associations to prevent and reduce the spread of invasive species, including a grant program, which has been very successful, he said.

“Preventing and reducing the spread of AIS keeps our lakes safe, clean and environmentally functional as fisheries and to the public,” Perry said.

According to Andy Soltvedt, county parks operations and visitor services manager, the county will get $135,000 in state funds for 2020 and also has $64,000 carryover from 2019 for a total of $199,000.

There is no sunset provision in the state law. “The funding continues in perpetuity unless the Legislature takes action,” Perry said.

The County Board adopted a resolution supporting the aquatic invasive species program and designating its oversight to the county parks department including preparation and implementation of an annual plan to allocate the funding.

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