Deciding where the divers work

There are many places in the lake infested with milfoil, in varying degrees. Some places are sparsely dotted with the plant, others are almost impenetrably thick, while much of the lake still has no milfoil. Because milfoil only grows where the lake is shallow enough for the plant to reach the surface sunlight, much of the lake’s milfoil grows close to the shore, and many of the worst patches are adjacent to homeowners’ shorelines.

Decisions about the use of bottom barriers or suction harvesting are constrained by the permits we have been granted by the state governing their use. Both techniques may only be used in specific locations which have been approved by DEC for that season. These are areas in which the milfoil has taken over from native flora, in which less that 5% of all plants are other than milfoil. In addition, the area must be suitable for the technique, considering underwater obstructions, nearby uses, etc.

As I have mentioned, these two techniques are not permitted before June 22nd, because they may be disruptive to native fish spawning. So before this date the divers use only hand pulling of individual milfoil plants. Hand pulling is most appropriate to smaller, less dense patches of milfoil, what the divers call, “onesies and twosies.” Still, there are many more places in the lake that could benefit from their attention. How do the divers determine where to pick?

First, we consider the whole lake. Where the divers focus their activity is part of a whole lake approach to dealing with milfoil. The Lake Fairlee Association is prohibited by its tax exempt status, by the terms of its grant from the state, and by its own ethics from doing otherwise. It has been suggested that the divers concentrate their work in front of the homes of those who have contributed the most money to the milfoil effort. While this might sometimes be tempting, because running a “divers for hire” operation might generate more income, we do not work that way. And while the divers certainly appreciate the cold beverages left for them on a hot day at the end of a dock, they are under instructions not to allow that to affect diving location decisions.

There are considerations which might not be obvious. Because powerboats driving through milfoil can fragment the plants and cause its spread, the divers try to clear out areas where there will naturally be frequent power boat use early, e.g. the Lochearn ski dock. Similarly intensive swimming activity can break up plants. The angle of the sun and surface breezes can affect the divers ability to see clearly where they are working, so weather conditions can determine when the divers work in given areas. Finally the direction and speed of the wind affects the spread of accidental fragments, which can occur no matter how careful and skilled the divers are.