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STARRY STARRY NIGHT

Mayor Tom Hartz signs off on the attempt to attack the latest creepingly quiet threat to the quality of Geneva Lake. The mayor signed a check for twenty thousand dollars to stop the spread of something most people living around Geneva Lake have never heard of. Ted Peters of the Geneva Lake Environmental Agency is leading the charge in recognizing this new voracious underwater beast and then doing something to eradicate it.

The Starry Stonewort (Nitellopsis obtusa) is heading this way and may already be in the lake. Starry Stonewort is an invasive species from Europe (prohibited in Wisconsin) that can grow in water up to 9 meters deep and can reduce fish spawning habitats, outcompete other vegetation, and fragments can foul watercraft motors. Starry Stonewort has been found in MI, NY, IN and recently in Wisconsin.

A last-minute amendment to the City Council agenda added item 11, in support of Geneva Lake Environmental Agency (GLEA) application for an early detection and response grant for preventing the spread of an invasive species. The GSR supports the GLEA and the city council action on this issue but also points out that lacking foresight last year several members of the City of Lake Geneva’s council. Certain members wanted to cut support to the Geneva Lake Environmental Agency. Fortunately, the entirety of the council listened to the public and didn’t cut the city’s funding to Ted Peters and his outfit that does so much important work around the lake. Finding a new threat like the Starry Stonewort doesn’t end the battles against old ones.

The problems in Geneva Lake, caused by the Zebra Mussels infestation, for example, have not gone away and maybe adding to the lakes Cyanobacteria. Zebra Mussels feed on phytoplankton, which in turn reduces the food source and the number of zooplankton. That depletion in the food chain continues up the chain to reduce the numbers of larger zooplankton, then aquatic insects, which leads to a reduction of small fish, and then medium, and ultimately larger fish. So, besides less fish and smaller fish, what else is the downside of the invasive Zebra Mussels that temporarily have made the lake look exceptionally clear and reduced the number of pesky May Flies, Dragon Flies, and other aquatic insects?

Zebra Mussels also excrete waste that adds more fertilizer that accelerates the growth of Cyanobacteria that is already increasing from the nutrients and phosphates from farms, lawns and septic runoff. Cyanobacteria are the major harmful algal group in freshwater environments that threaten lakes with harmful algal blooms (CyanoHABs). CyanoHABs manifest themselves as visual discolorations, surface scums up to paint-like brown, green or blue-green slicks and even clotted mats. Cyanobacteria block out the sun and destroy the plant life below which depletes the oxygen in the water that is needed for higher forms of aquatic life. These algal blooms can be seen in surrounding area lakes and ponds, and now on occasions, small temporary ones have been seen in Geneva Lake. CyanoHABs are considered one of the most obvious indicators of eutrophication (a type of deterioration of freshwater lakes). Everything affects everything, and things and the interest in them (unless they are continually renewed) will continue to deteriorate to a point where they will be gone.

The Starry Stonewort is only the latest addition to an unending list of nasty creatures coming to take Geneva Lake for its own. Maintenance and constant vigilance is necessary to keep pristine Geneva Lake, The Riviera, and Yerkes Observatory the wonderful places they are. To do this they need constant public interest and financial backing to preserve them, or they will be gone. Once gone, they will be gone forever… and that is a very long time.

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