Like good detectives on the hunt for a fugitive, TVA’s aquatic plant management team is combing Lake Guntersville for one of Alabama’s and the Tennessee Valley’s most menacing water weeds—water hyacinth.
“Water hyacinth starts out like a good crime novel,” says Dr. Brett Hartis, TVA’s lead aquatic plant biologist. “You think it’s beautiful and benign, but it quickly turns into a monster.”
Water hyacinth is an aquatic plant native to the Amazon basin. It’s often a highly problematic invasive species when found outside its native range. Last year, the TVA found water hyacinth in a slough near Scottsboro. TVA quickly partnered with the State of Alabama, bringing experts from both sides to start addressing the invasive water weed.
According to Hartis, the mother colony was most likely started by someone releasing plants from a water garden or perhaps a plant that hitched a ride on barge traffic coming from the south, where the plant is already a major problem. Hartis believes a few plants quickly grew to cover several hundred acres in a single growing season.
Water hyacinth is bad news for Guntersville and other great fisheries in the Tennessee Valley. The plant can quickly out-compete other beneficial plants, often creating biological wastelands.
“The problem with hyacinth is that it is a floating plant and can pretty much grow wherever the wind and current take it. The plant grows fast and completely takes over large areas, destroying them for recreation and fishing alike,” said Hartis.
Keeping the reservoirs healthy is a top priority for TVA. According to a 2017 University of Tennessee study, recreation on Tennessee River and its reservoirs is worth about $12 billion to the local economy and creates about 130,000 jobs each year.
Mother Nature to the rescue
The good news is that this winter’s bitter cold temperatures may have helped put a stop to water hyacinth’s spread in Guntersville.
“Mother Nature is the best aquatic plant management tool we have,” said Hartis. “Many invasive plants cannot handle extended, deep cold snaps like we saw in January.”
Hartis explains that last winter TVA proactively lowered Lake Guntersville’s water level to expose the hyacinth’s floating roots to the cold. This is because tropical species die when their roots are exposed to freezing temperatures for extended periods.
Hartis’ team has been crossing the lake on airboats this summer, actively looking for hyacinth as part of their plant management duties. “Mother Nature did her job on that colony,” Hartis reports. “We’ve only found a few plants and we’re pulling them out of the water so they don’t have a chance to take off again like they did last year.”
How you can help
Hartis and his team are asking the public to be on the lookout for hyacinth this summer. “We care about the environment and the tremendous investment Lake Guntersville is to the community,” he says. “If you see a [hyacinth] plant, pull it out of the water immediately and put it in the trash. We don’t want plants to float to a new area and establish a new colony.”
If you find a large area of hyacinth, please report it to TVA’s Public Land Information Center at (800) 882-5263 (between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. Eastern).
To help control invasive plants, Hartis recommends:
- Keep it clean—Remove all plant material from boats, trailers, bilges, live wells and any marine equipment. This will prevent aquatic species from being introduced into other TVA reservoirs.
- Native water gardening only—Plant only native species around shorelines. While non-native species like ornamental lilies and water hyacinth are beautiful, they will quickly spread if introduced into the river.
- Drain and dry—When visiting reservoirs with known invasive plants, make sure all equipment is dry and free from fragments. Even completely dry fragments have the potential to grow once submerged again. Consider visiting non-affected reservoirs only after you have cleaned, drained and dried your boat.
- No dumping please—Refrain from dumping unwanted aquarium or water garden plants into nearby streams and rivers. Dispose of any unwanted plants in the garbage.