ELKHART, Ind. – Fishing the Upper St. Joseph River this week, Steve Cockrill and daughter Jennifer Cockrill ended up with weeds on their lines more frequently than fish.
“You’re thinking, ‘We’re going to eat a lot more salad than fish,’ ” joked Jennifer Cockrill, sitting in a boat with her father, waiting for nibbles.
For about the past six or seven years, summer has meant more and more weeds floating in the St. Joseph River between the Johnson Street dam and County Road 17. This year is no different and, in fact, the problem appears to be worse.
“It’s never been this bad, not here at Bulldog,” said Tom Shoff, speaking from a boat idling in the river at Bulldog Crossing off East Jackson Boulevard.
Aside from causing the Cockrills to land more weeds than fish, the thick growth snags in boat motors, hampering recreational activities on the waterway. It can also be an eyesore and even harm land values.
“Who’d want to buy a home on a swamp?” said Shoff, head of the St. Joseph River Association, a coalition of homeowners along the waterway here.
Accordingly, the association is seeking $30,000 in funds from homeowners to chemically treat the weeds.
A convergence of factors has made the weed problem more pronounced this summer than in years past. A mild winter prevented ice from forming on the waterway, allowing sunlight into the river bottom and photosynthesis. Limited rain last spring, likewise, kept the river water clear, also allowing the entry of sunlight.
Just as significant, fertilizer in the form of droppings from the river’s swan population has allowed the plant life to thrive.
Jim Donohue, operator of Aquatic Weed Control, a Syracuse company that’s treated the St. Joseph River for weeds in years past, said the waterway here isn’t unique. He was in the boat with Shoff, taking inventory of the weed growth here, partially treated earlier in the year.
Lakes and ponds all over northern Indiana and southern Michigan are experiencing a spike in weeds due to the mild winter and low rainfall levels last spring. What’s more, he said treating weeds – Eurasian watermilfoil, coontail, eelgrass, cabomba and others – will probably be necessary here every year to prevent overgrowth.
“It will be a continuing issue,” he said.
As is, the partial treatments in the St. Joseph River earlier this year have kept the main travel routes along the waterway open. “If we wouldn’t have treated it here, you wouldn’t get through,” said Donahue, alluding to the section of waterway off Martin’s Landing.
But the weeds grow back, so treating them is a continual thing, at least during boating season.
The root, so to speak, of the weed issue is the increasing presence of zebra mussels, according to Donahue. Zebra mussels naturally purify water, he said, which in turn makes the river clearer, allowing increased entry of sunlight and photosynthesis.
Meanwhile, river users like the Cockrills, are left to fight through the greenery.
“The weeds are very healthy this year,” said Steve Cockrill, who’s from the Anderson area but regularly travels here to boat, fish and camp along the St. Joseph River. “It’s heavy. They’re really heavy.”
When the growth has gotten tangled in his boat motor, Cockrill has had to stop and clear it off. Sometimes he just guns the engine through weed patches, shredding the growth to keep his motor from getting jammed.
“It’s one more variable that you have to be aware of when going up and down the river,” said Jennifer Cockrill.
Story distributed by The Associated Press.