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Big Muskego Lake tries to say afloat in weedy year

Big lake has suffered the most among city's three bodies of water

The Little Muskego Lake Management District's newest weed-cutter clears a 10-foot wide swath of aquatic vegetation from Schubring Bay on Friday.

The Little Muskego Lake Management District's newest weed-cutter clears a 10-foot wide swath of aquatic vegetation from Schubring Bay on Friday. Photo By C.T. Kruger

Aug. 31, 2012

Muskego - Forgive Tim Kantak if he uses a bit of frustration-born hyberbole to describe weed-choked Big Muskego Lake.

"The weeds are so bad you could walk on them," said Kantak, a lakeshore resident along the city's massive lake.

It's less of an exaggeration when he says the lake hasn't been very friendly for boaters this year. Through chemical treatment, boating lanes have been carved out, "but get out of the lanes and you will not move," Kantak said.

The people whose jobs include caring for the lake shared his frustration in what they consider to be unprecedented week growth on Big Muskego Lake this year.

"We're in unknown territory, dealing with weeds on such a large scale," said Greg Burmeister, a deputy commissioner of the Big Muskego Lake/Bass Bay Protection and Rehabilitation District.

Weedy growing season

Big Muskego Lake is not alone in experiencing phenomenal weed growth this year, said Tom Zagar, Muskego conservation coordinator. Lakes all over the state are more weedy - and that includes Little Muskego Lake and Lake Denoon, each of which have struggled to different extents to keep the lakes useful this summer.

The winter wasn't cold enough to shrivel the ever-robust Eurasian water milfoil back to the roots, Zagar said, and the warm spring and the extra summer sunshine that has come along with a drought provided perfect growing conditions for the milfoil and other water plants.

Big Muskego Lake is hit harder than most lakes because it's shallow, so more sunshine gets to the weeds and they don't have to grow very much to become a problem, Zagar said.

By comparison, the lake's smaller neighbor, Little Muskego Lake, is deeper. But that doesn't mean the weeds haven't been a noticeable problem there.

"We're on a record pace" for weed harvesting, said Larry Lefebvre, Little Muskego Lake District chairman, noting that last year 1,600 truckloads of weeds were cut.

Little measures that count

Those weed-control efforts have made Little Muskego Lake more boater friendly, in comparison to the larger lake.

More people live around the smaller lake, so they could afford to have four weed cutters going in two shifts every weekday and half days on weekends all summer long to keep the lake navigable, Lefebvre said.

With a budget of $300,000, the lake district employs 21 people in its weed control operation and uses two trucks and a barge in addition to the four cutters. Lefebvre doesn't expect to need all of the $300,000 even though the district just got a new $175,000 weed cutter with the help of an $88,000 grant.

The district also chemically treats the weeds. The $40,000 treatment helped a lot this year, he said, adding that the efforts have been worth it.

"Ninety-nine percent of the people are pleased, especially compared with other lakes," Lefebvre said.

Mixed concerns on Danoon

At Lake Denoon, the ring of weeds around the edge of the lake is harder to get through this year to get to clear water in the middle, said Kim Gabrhel, president of the Lake Denoon Advancement Association.

Although the lake was treated for weeds in spring, some people still couldn't use their boats, Gabrhel said. But trouble spots were retreated and no one has a problem that she knows of, she added.

What Gabrhel and other boaters on Lake Denoon worry about now is whether lake levels will get high enough for them to get their boats out of the water this fall. The drought has left all the lakes low.

Normally, she takes her boat to the public launch and backs the trailer into the water to float the boat onto it. She and others worry about whether their cars will have to back so far into the lake that their tires will end up in muck.

But she and others say that's all speculation at this point. Rain could come at any time and bring lake levels back, she said.

"We've got time," Gabrhel said.

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