State

It’s called hydrilla, and it’s a threat to Eastern Kentucky lakes

This photo illustrates how invasive plants can cling to boats and trailers, which can help spread the plants. This photo was taken in North Carolina at a spot where invasive plants called hydrilla and coontail mingled. Hydrilla was found recently in Cave Run Lake near Morehead for the first time.
This photo illustrates how invasive plants can cling to boats and trailers, which can help spread the plants. This photo was taken in North Carolina at a spot where invasive plants called hydrilla and coontail mingled. Hydrilla was found recently in Cave Run Lake near Morehead for the first time. North Carolina Division of Water Resources

An invasive plant that grows quickly and can impair fishing and boating has been spotted at Cave Run Lake near Morehead.

State and federal officials are asking boaters for help in trying to stop the spread of the plant, called hydrilla.

It is present in several lakes in Eastern Kentucky, but it was discovered last week at Cave Run for the first time, said Dave Baker, a spokesman for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.

The plant grows in dense, branching colonies from the bottom of lakes and can spread into thick mats once it reaches the surface, according to the department.

It can grow an inch a day, bringing to mind kudzu, the fast-growing vine that has overgrown big swaths of Kentucky and the Southeast.

“Hydrilla is the kudzu of lakes,” Baker said. “It grows like crazy.”

Anglers once thought hydrilla would help fishing conditions by providing cover, but it can overrun a good spot, suck up oxygen and cause fish kills, according to a website sponsored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Coast Guard.

Thick mats of hydrilla can make it hard to get to fishing spots, get tangled in props and choke out native plants.

The plant was once sold for use in aquariums and somehow got into the wild.

It is found mostly in the southeastern and southwestern parts of the United States.

At Cave Run, there are pockets of the plant around the Warix, Zilpo and Alfrey boat ramps, and it has been spotted along Zilpo Flats and in several small embayments at the middle of the lake, according to a news release.

It can be spread if a piece gets on a boat or trailer and drops off elsewhere. A piece as short as one inch can start a new colony, according to the state news release.

The plant is hardy. A tuber can grow a plant even after it has been out of the water for several days, and a piece of the plant can lie dormant in undisturbed soil for more than four years and still sprout, according to the state.

The heaviest concentrations at Cave Run are at ramps, so biologists think it was carried into the lake by a boat or trailer.

That’s why state and federal officials want boaters and personal watercraft users to make sure their boats and watercraft are free of any plant material before launching.

When leaving the lake, people should inspect boats, motors, personal watercraft and trailers and remove any plant material, the department said.

Baker said it’s best to remove the material on the ramp or in the parking lot and put it in the trash.

If people discover pieces of plants on boat or trailers after getting home, they should scrub and spray them off.

Colonies of hydrilla were found last week at Greenbo Lake for the first time as well. The plant was found in Paintsville, Carr Creek, Dewey and Kentucky lakes earlier, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources said.

The problem first showed up in Dewey Lake in 2008. Mats of hydrilla eventually grew shore to shore, Baker said.

Officials used chemicals to curb it, but several wet springs also helped because the plant doesn’t grow well in muddy water, Baker said.

Cave Run Lake, near Morehead, was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and is surrounded by the Daniel Boone National Forest.

State and federal officials are consulting on the best way to try to control hydrilla there. There are several potential methods, including using chemicals on it or physically removing it.

Grass carp also eat it and are excellent at controlling it, according to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.

“We have to consider all the different options,” Baker said.

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