What was supposed to be a fairly normal chemical spraying for water hyacinth on portions of Lake Fork went bad this summer, starting another small firestorm at the lake.
As is customary at Texas lakes, the Texas Texas Parks and Wildlife Department contracted with a private applicator to conduct the spraying of herbicide on Lake Fork this summer. As has been the case in the past on the lake the plan was to treat the hyacinth, a non-native invasive vegetation that can impact boating traffic and produces poor fishing habitat.
Despite periodic inspection, the contractor, who has since been let go by the department, was using approved chemicals Platoon (2, 4-D) and Alligare (Triclopyr) when he went beyond spraying hyacinth and also sprayed other desirable vegetation. It is not uncommon for other plants growing alongside the hyacinth to be killed, but even the department felt the contractor’s efforts were substandard on this job.
“We have not been satisfied with the contractor, to say the least. A long story short, the contractor completely failed to control hyacinth and, in the process, sprayed non-target vegetation. In fact, the hyacinth has worsened - spreading throughout the reservoir and piling up along shorelines and the backs of coves,” said Spencer Dumont, TPWD Inland Fisheries Region 2 director.
While the department is often accused of being too aggressive with its treatment of some vegetation, Dumont said the intention on Lake Fork was to treat nothing but the hyacinth.
“I can assure you TPWD’s goal was to control water hyacinth before it got out of hand. However, without help from Mother Nature, water hyacinth will be a huge problem next year, preventing fishing access in many areas. We’ll have a trusted contractor and will continue our efforts to maintain fishing access with as minimal impact as possible to other types of aquatic vegetation,” he explained.
Evan Cartabiano, TPWD assistant biologist for the district overseeing the lake, said the contractor was supposed to spray hyacinth in Glade, Running and Birch creeks.
“Buttonbush, willow and American lotus were the non-hyacinth species primarily impacted. While in some localized areas these species were destroyed, lake-wide the damage was far less and the impacted areas were relatively small. We did not detect any visible damage to any fully aquatic species such as hydrilla or American pondweed – a very good thing,” Cartabiano said. He added that the spraying of non-targeted species was localized.
Because of the amount of invasive vegetation on lakes across the state and the manpower that is required to treat it, the department contracts out the spraying. TPWD has had contractors on 14 lakes and rivers this summer in projects solely funded by the department or in conjunction with another agency or city. While there are some basic experience criteria that must be met by the contractor, because of a cost-saving legislative mandate the jobs are awarded to the lowest bidder.
Dumont said it is impossible to have staff onsite daily during a spray operation, but that biologists or technicians from the department’s managing district or staff from its Aquatic Habitat Enhancement team will check in throughout the application season. In most instances there are not problems.
“It happens occasionally but, outside of a very few instances, the contractors we’ve used have been excellent,” Dumont said. He added this is the only case in the last two years the contractor failed to meet expectations.
“We have had some issues with contractors in the past but many of them will correct issues and do really good work afterwards. This contractor continued to perform poorly despite our efforts to correct issues. We have documented these issues on a vendor performance form and do not expect to use them again,” said John Findeisen, who coordinates the Aquatic Habitat Enhancement team.
Findeisen added that his team would be returning to the lake to see if there is still time this fall to resume treatment using a different contractor.
For now, the department is unable to change the way it hires contractors because of legislative restrictions. Its best option going forward is to eliminate those whose performance is not satisfactory and to enhance its contractor requirements where possible.
“John (Findeisen) is exceptional in working with contractors and making them accountable for their work. Part of that process is documenting poor performance via a vendor performance report at the end of a contract. With a poor vendor performance report, it provides us justification for selecting the next vendor in the event the poor vendor is first in line for a given job. Even before this occurs John has intervened on a number of occasions to improve contractor effectiveness, with great success, except at Fork,” Dumont said.