Lake Conroe Native Plant Restoration Project

Lake Conroe Native Plant Restoration Project

Conroe, TX

July 27, 2009

27 volunteers converged on Lake Conroe July 25th, 2009 for a day of transplanting native aquatic plants into the lake. Four different species of the plants were placed along the northern shores of the Sam Houston National Forest. The volunteer group was able to get 120 pots of water willow, soft-stem bulrush, spike rush, and pickerel weed into the water during the workday. The group was both dedicated and experienced, and the work was completed in a very efficient manner. All of the plants were protected with wire mesh cages after being transplanted.

The project is a coordinated effort between the Seven Coves Bass Club (with the B.A.S.S. Federation Nation), the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the San Jacinto River Authority, and the Lewisville Aquatic Ecosystem Research Facility. A major portion of the funding for the project has come via a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. This group has been working to maintain a native plant base in Lake Conroe since the incorporation of white amur (also known as “grass carp”) into the lake’s hydrilla management program in 2006. Although the herbivorous fish have been able to eliminate all of the 2,000 acres of invasive hydrilla, the native base of aquatic plants in the lake has been reduced from over 1,000 acres to a sparse 150 acres to date.

The goals of the Native Plant Restoration Project is to assist in the renewal of habitat for juvenile fish, reduce excessive mineral levels that lead to invasive plant species growth, inhibit algal production, and improve the overall water quality in the lake. Although this program has placed nearly 1,500 native plants into Lake Conroe over the past two years, colonization, and expansion, has been retarded with the current numbers of grass carp that remain in the lake. It is hoped that the restocking efforts will become enhanced, with a future decline in the numbers of the amur.

Several more workdays are being scheduled for the remainder of the 2009 planting season. Anyone with questions, or a desire to assist in the restoration project, is invited to contact the project’s coordinator-Ron Gunter. Ron can be reached at 936-524-4413, or regunter@consolidated.net

LCA PRESIDENT’S UPDATE

Welcome to 2009. On behalf of the LCA Board of Directors, we’d like to thank our membership for their support in 2008 and wish all of you a prosperous 2009.

The LCA held its Annual Meeting on Friday, January 16 at the offices of the San Jacinto River Authority to update our Members on topics of current interest and tally all proxies received from our Members to elect an LCA Board of Directors for 2009. From our 507 current LCA Members, 173 proxies were returned (which exceeds the minimum number necessary for a quorum). You elected the following individuals to represent you on the 2009 LCA Board of Directors: Gene Barrington, Mike Bleier, Tom Butz, Dawn Cleboski, Gene Colbert, Rich Cutler, Jim Pohoski, Ben Richardson, Stan Sproba, Colin Stead and Sue Wheatley. All eleven (11) of these individuals served on your 2007 and 2008 Boards as well. We look forward to serving you and our lake community in the year to come.

Subsequent to the LCA Annual Meeting, the LCA Board convened to nominate and elect its 2009 Officers. Accepting nomination for 2009 were Mike Bleier (LCA President), Ben Richardson (LCA Vice President) and Tom Butz (LCA Secretary/Treasurer), and all three were unanimously elected into their respective offices.

During the past year, we experienced a decrease in our Hydrilla infestation from 2,052 acres in January, 2008 to only 2 acres currently. A total of 123,765 White Amur grass carp have been added to Lake Conroe (27,441 in 2006, 48,750 in 2007, and 47,574 in 2008) and, based on an estimated mortality rate of 32% per year, approximately 87,000 remain alive at this time. These White Amur remain a protected species (meaning if caught, they must be released) as they will continue their job going forward of eating Hydrilla tubers as they grow out of the lake bottom this Spring and beyond. Unless unforeseen circumstances occur, we anticipate that these White Amur should control Hydrilla in 2009 and no additional White Amur will be added to the lake this year.

Water Hyacinth and Giant Salvinia (67.9 acres and 628.7 acres, respectively, in October, 2008) become primarily dormant in our Winter temperatures, and no herbicide treatments are currently being performed. We hope that our White Amur will develop an appetite for Water Hyacinth and Giant Salvinia as their Hydrilla food sources is depleted. Should this not occur, it is probable that Water Hyacinth and Giant Salvinia will be treated with herbicides by Spring/Summer, 2009.

Other points of interest include:

· Dam repairs from Hurricane Ike damage have commenced. The contract with Rebel Contractors, Inc. of Willis, TX allows 90 days for substantial completion of the project. It is anticipated that 75% of the $978,268 bid will be reimbursed by FEMA (with the balance paid by the San Jacinto River Authority and the City of Houston)

· The current lake level is 199.7 MSL (normal is 201.0 MSL).

· Lake Conroe will be the site for a very large Bass Tournament sponsored by Toyota in October, 2009. Festivities will be coordinated at Buffalo Springs.

· A new boat dock and launch area will be constructed this year at the San Jacinto River Authority damsite for use of the Montgomery County Constables’ lake patrol boats. A new building will also be erected for use of Constable lake personnel.

· The LCA joined the Conroe Chamber of Commerce to promote itself to local businesses and gain the support of this valuable, local organization.

· The next lake survey to quantify infestations of Hydrilla, Water Hyacinth and Giant Salvinia is expected in May, 2009. Another lakewide survey of all native and non-native invasive species will be conducted around September, 2009 by Texas Parks & Wildlife.

· During Winter, we lose approximately 40 million gallons of water per day to evaporation and transpiration. This compares to highs of approximately 200 million gallons per day in Summer.

While the LCA conducts a number of valuable functions for our lake community, a primary responsibility held by the LCA is that of fund raising for Aquatic Plant Management on Lake Conroe (with over $600,000 raised in the past three years). We’d like to thank the 70 individuals who sent in contributions along with their LCA proxies this month, and hope that our membership will show continued support throughout 2009. Our next official Fund Raising Campaign will be in May, 2009. With our current economic downturn affecting City, County, State and Federal budgets, we are greatly concerned that funding we count on for Aquatic Plant Management from these sources may be reduced or eliminated. We are working with Senator Robert Nichols and Representative Brandon Creighton to encourage the introduction and passing of bills in the 81st Legislative Session of the Texas Legislature which will guarantee funding for our Texas lakes. As always, we will also continue our communication with local businesses and Property Owner Associations (POA’s) to solicit their support.

During 2008, the LCA received $127, 602 in contributions. During that same period, we spent $115,775 ($112,506 on White Amur, $2,000 on our bi-annual audit, and $1,269 on other expenses); leaving a net positive cash flow of $11,827 for the year. We currently hold $11,013 in an interest-bearing checking account and $80,000 in CD’s. While we are very pleased to have $91,013 on deposit, these funds will not be sufficient to fund the treatment of significant aquatic plant infestations (should they occur). So, as always (and until new sources of City, County, State or Federal funding are received), we are sure to be counting on your support in 2009.

Thank you for listening and remaining committed to our lake community. The LCA Board looks forward to serving you for another year.

Mike Bleier, President

Lake Conroe Association

LCA PRESIDENT’S UPDATE

The committee of Texas Parks & Wildlife (TPWD), San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA), Lake Conroe Association (LCA), and angler organizations including Seven Coves Bass Club received wonderful news from TPWD regarding Lake Conroe’s Hydrilla infestation. Hydrilla was reported to have decreased from 2,033 acres in January, 2008 to 363 acres in March, 2008 – the lowest Hydrilla acreage since 2005. Finally, some good news !!

TPWD described “schools of White Amur” traveling throughout the Lake and ravaging our nuisance, invasive weed. With approximately 110,000 White Amur still alive at this time (based on an estimated 32% mortality factor) and only 363 infested acres, the White Amur now hold a distinct advantage over Hydrilla in that they are currently stocked at 302 fish/acre. If 110,000 White Amur can devour 1,670 Hydrilla infested acres in two months, just think what those 110,000 White Amur can do to the remaining 363 acres. Even though we are just entering Hydrilla growing season as Lake temperatures warm and sunshine intensifies, we are cautiously optimistic that the Summer of 2008 will be much improved for all Lake users.

Concerns exist over the possibility that once the White Amur eat the majority of our Hydrilla, they will turn to other Lake vegetation as their food source. TPWD reported that White Amur like to eat Bushy Pond Weed, a plant that has caused certain portions of our Lake to become unattractive and less navigable. TPWD also stated that White Amur are less inclined to eat Coontail or Vallisneria – both plants that provide excellent fish habitat and improve water quality. TPWD is actively monitoring the condition of our native plant community and has enlisted the services of two Texas A&M graduate students to study various Lake conditions documented by them in 2007 and comparing that data to new data being gathered in 2008. TPWD stated they were optimistic that our native plant community would survive.

TPWD and SJRA will develop a new, written Aquatic Plant Management Plan for Lake Conroe as the current Plan expired March, 2008. The new Plan will call for surveys of Hydrilla and Giant Salvinia every two months. Should Hydrilla unexpectedly show signs of a “spike” in growth, TPWD has agreed that supplemental stockings of White Amur will not be ruled out. Further, TPWD said any such “spikes” would be dealt with “immediately” rather than taking a slower, measured approach as used throughout the past two (2) years.

The news about another invasive weed, Giant Salvinia, was less encouraging. Giant Salvinia has been reported to cover between 300 – 500 acres currently, and the plant is already actively growing with our warmer temperatures. Giant Salvinia is particularly dangerous for our Lake as it can double in size every three (3) days. SJRA has already initiated herbicide applications to Giant Salvinia, and is negotiating with a helicopter operator for aerial sprayings in the less populated areas like the northern National Forest shoreline. TPWD and SJRA are committed to attacking the Giant Salvinia problem immediately.

After LCA Members donated over $500,000 in the past two years and the combined team of SJRA and LCA have spent well over $1 million to control invasive weeds on Lake Conroe, some good news is finally on the financial horizon. TPWD had secured a $150,000 grant from US Fish & Wildlife for Aquatic Plant Management (APM) on Lake Conroe. Working with LCA and SJRA, Montgomery County has agreed to increase their contribution from their $25,000 budget to $55,000. The US Forest Service has concurred that a significant portion of the Hydrilla infestation is located along the shores of the National Forest and, in response, has agreed to contribute $16,000. The Seven Coves Bass Club, in a somewhat unprecedented move for an angling organization, donated $5,000 for APM. Senator Robert Nichols continues to press Austin for financial assistance for our Texas lakes and reports that the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee has given TPWD not greater than two months to draft a proposal on how funds appropriated to TPWD by the State of Texas can be allocated for APM in Texas lakes. These sources will certainly help ease the financial burden placed on the resources of Lake residents, businesses and SJRA, but will not eliminate the need for funds from the LCA.

The LCA will initiate its annual Fund Raising Campaign in May in an effort to replenish its depleted bank account and provide a fund for future, emergency needs should infestations of Hydrilla or Giant Salvinia need immediate attention. We do not desire to be in a position where funds are needed and the LCA cannot respond. The fund raising process takes about two months – much too long for any form of “immediate” response. We hope that you will consider to continue to support the LCA and its efforts to assist all Lake users. You will see fund raising correspondence in the mail shortly as we send letters to over 15,000 Lake residents and local businesses. I’d like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank those 250+ contributors who responded to the LCA’s February, 2008 Emergency Fund Raising request which enabled the LCA to pay for this last batch of much-needed 32,000 White Amur added in March, 2008.

Again, thank you for your support of the LCA. The teamwork exhibited between residents, businesses, TPWD, SJRA, LCA, angling organizations, Montgomery County, State representatives and The Courier has enabled us to close in on reaching our goal of “40 acres or less of Hydrilla” and should serve as a guideline for other Texas lakes should they encounter infestations in the future. We hope you enjoy a beautiful Lake Conroe for years to come.

Mike Bleier, President

Lake Conroe Association

LCA PRESIDENT’S UPDATE

Just some quick information for those interested. Hoping you and your family made it through Hurricane Ike safely and with limited damage.

As you are probably aware, the dam on Lake Conroe suffered damage from Ike. Approximately 1,500 feet of the 12,000 foot length of the dam needs “spot repair” at an initial estimated cost of $1 million. Before any repair can commence, engineering design for the repair must be completed, bids must go out to qualified contractors and a final bid must be accepted by the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) Board. The actual repairs will most likely commence by late-January and actual repair work is estimated to take 8 – 12 weeks. If the lake level must be lowered for repairs, SJRA does not see such an action occurring before late-January (with plenty of advance notification so that boat owners and lake area residents can prepare).

Based on the August, 2008 surveys performed by Texas Parks & Wildlife (TPWD), our weed and plant acreages are as follows:

· Hydrilla….1.3 acres (down from 2.5 acres in June)

· Water Hyacinth…..67.9 acres (down from 106.4 acres in June)

· Giant Salvinia…..628.7 acres (up from 283.5 acres in June)

· Combined native plants…..140.0 acres (down from 151.5 acres in June)

It appears that the White Amur purchased for Hydrilla reduction are now eating Water Hyacinth. Giant Salvinia is currently being treated with herbicides by SJRA and a contractor hired by SJRA.

An estimated 90,000 White Amur grass carp remain alive in Lake Conroe at this time. While certain organizations have suggested that the ban on removing White Amur from Lake Conroe be removed, the TPWD official in charge of Lake Conroe’s Aquatic Plant Management Program (Dr. Earl Chilton) has stated that this “ban” will not be removed at this time. Dr. Chilton sited that Lake Conroe is still infested with Hydrilla tubers from the 2,100 acre infestation we experienced in 2007 and that the White Amur will prove beneficial once these tubers start to grow again in Spring, 2009 and beyond. Hydrilla tubers can live dormant in the lake bottom for up to 5 – 7 years.

The Annual Meeting of the Lake Conroe Association (LCA) will be held at the offices of SJRA on Friday, January 16, 2009 from 10AM to Noon. Among other topics, the Board of Directors for the LCA for the upcoming year will be elected. More information on this meeting will follow as the date approaches.

Thank you for listening and let us know how we can help. We can be reached at

www.lakeconroeassociation.com.

Mike Bleier

President, Lake Conroe Association