Aquatic invasive species (AIS) is a subject that has for years been getting a lot of press coverage, and has certainly gotten the attention of the Minnesota State Legislature. Each year, they appropriate millions of dollars to go toward AIS management. In 2010, they spent $3.8 million to fight AIS. In 2012, they increased that to more than $8 million. That helps, but it’s not enough to solve the growing problem. At stake are the state’s $11 billion tourism industry and a cherished way of life for many voting Minnesotans.
It may sound like a lot, but the fact is that $8 million isn’t nearly enough. And because it isn’t enough, private citizens are spending their own hard-earned dollars to keep public waters healthy by paying for herbicidal treatments on lakes to control Curly Leaf Pondweed and Eurasian Watermilfoil. Local governments are also spending dollars to support Lake Improvement Districts (LIDs), which allow lakeshore property owners to tax themselves to combat AIS. Voluntary and local government contributions add up to more than $5 million over the last three years, according to a survey by the Minnesota COLA Collaborative, a partnership of COLAs (Coalition of Lake Associations) set up around the state to strengthen the voices of small, medium and large lake associations. And that $5 million is just a band-aid to manage Curly Leaf Pondweed and Eurasian Watermilfoil until the state figures out how to use public dollars to adequately protect public waters. Until then, AIS will continue to spread from lake to lake because there is a pervasive culture of unfettered access to lakes, and the current response by the state isn’t commensurate with the threat. If that weren’t enough, there is no known method to control the newest scourges to Minnesota’s lakes and rivers: zebra mussels, quagga mussels, spiny water flea, viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS), and things lying in wait that scientists still don’t know about.
With ever-tightening state budgets and with costs rising each year, Minnesota – a state that is recognized as a leader when it comes to healthy water resources – needs to set up a permanent funding source for AIS that is guaranteed no matter what political winds may blow in St. Paul. Numerous proposals have been presented to the legislature, but none yet have garnered their approval. One proposed an increase in the current $5 boat surcharge, which is part of a 3-year boat registration fee. That $5 surcharge is used specifically to fight AIS. That’s just $1.66 per year and that meager amount hasn’t changed since 1993. AIS has gotten more aggressive since 1993, but the state hasn’t when it comes to adjusting the boat surcharge based on need rather than convenience.
Connecting a permanent funding source to boats makes sense since boaters – most unknowingly – are probably the biggest cause of the spread of AIS throughout Minnesota. There are more than 800,000 registered boats in Minnesota, which is the highest per capita in the country. That’s one boat for every six residents. A $10 increase from $5 to $15 would raise approximately $8 million new dollars in revenue every three years to be dedicated to AIS management, education and enforcement.
Another option was to create a new AIS decal that would be purchased every year by all boaters using Minnesota waters. This would apply to residents and non-residents alike. That would admittedly be harder to track and administer, but it would also create a much bigger pool of money – maybe even enough to make some substantial progress in the fight against AIS.
With known, dedicated funding each and every year, the state can put together a long-term vision and a doable plan for dealing with AIS. The other alternative is that the state continues doing what it’s been doing and continues to lose the battle despite throwing millions of dollars at the problem.