Elk Point bubble curtain protects against aquatic weeds

Jeff Cowen
The Elks Point bubble curtain. Provided
League to Save Lake Tahoe

ZEPHYR COVE, Nev. — When Charles Jennings moved to Elk Point four years ago, he noticed thick green and brown plants dominating the bottom of the marina. The plants were knocked back last fall but could possibly return.

The Elks Point bubble curtain from underwater. Provided
League to Save Lake Tahoe

A new, innovative bubble curtain installed across the marina entrance earlier this month is making the possibility of another weed infestation less likely.

The Tahoe Resource Conservation District and Marine Taxonomic Services made the initial treatment in the marina last year by installing underwater mats called bottom barriers, which starve the invasive weeds of sunlight. But the initial treatment does not guarantee the plants won’t return, said Jennings, vice president of the Elk Point Country Club Homeowners Association.

The homeowners association, Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, the Tahoe Fund, and the League to Save Lake Tahoe partnered to fund a bubble curtain across the marina entrance to keep invasive plant fragments from reestablishing in the marina. Perforated air hose lines on the bottom of the channel create walls of bubbles that help slow plant fragments from entering the treated area. Unlike the bubble curtains in the channels of the Tahoe Keys, this bubble curtain works in reverse, to keep plant fragments out, rather than in.

“We are excited to partner on this innovative new use of a bubble curtain to keep aquatic invasive plants out of the marina,” said Amy Berry, Tahoe Fund CEO. “Aquatic invasive species are one of the great challenges the lake faces, and it is going to take all of us working together on new solutions.”

Aquatic invasive weeds such as Eurasian watermilfoil are not native to Tahoe and without a natural check to their growth, the weeds quickly colonize and out compete native species. Watercraft can spread aquatic weeds around the lake from fragments tangled on their propellers and anchors, resulting in new infestations that are expensive and difficult to treat.

“It’s a constant battle to control and treat aquatic weeds,” said Dennis Zabaglo, TRPA aquatic resources program manager. “Fortunately, we collaborate with many public and private partner organizations like Elk Point Country Club to implement the best emerging technologies to protect the lake.

“The main goal of the Elk Point Marina bubble curtain is to keep aquatic invasive species plant fragments from entering the marina where they could establish new plant infestations, and to collect and dispose of the plant fragments,” he added.

The addition of the bubble curtain at Elk Point is an example of the technology’s multiple uses to protect and restore Lake Tahoe. The jointly funded bubble curtain is a way to protect collaborative investments in past successful AIS treatments.

“Our three years of experience with the bubble curtain pilot program in the Tahoe Keys have proven this innovative technology is an important ingredient in tackling the most dire ecological threat to Lake Tahoe,” said Jesse Patterson, chief strategy officer for the League to Save Lake Tahoe. “We’re proud to build on that success by working with the folks at Elk Point, TRPA and the Tahoe Fund to put aquatic invasive species in check and Keep Tahoe Blue.”

The multi-agency Lake Tahoe Aquatic Invasive Species action agenda calls for continuation of the comprehensive watercraft inspection program to protect the lakes of the region from new AIS, and a control program to tackle invasives that were introduced before watercraft inspections began in 2008. Since the start of mandatory inspections at Tahoe, no new AIS have been detected in the basin.

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