Cooter Pond hydrilla

Blake Briscoe, left, and Austin McCullough paddle their canoe through thick hydrilla Friday morning in downtown Inverness' Cooter Pond. Treatment to clear the lake of the non-native aquatic plant will begin soon.

Hydrilla is the bane of Cooter Pond, like unwanted weeds in an otherwise pristine garden. And the city of Inverness plans to yank it out of the lake like a weed by its roots.

Starting this week, the city will begin mechanically harvesting the invasive plant that can grow nearly an inch a day just beneath the water’s surface, changing the natural environment of the lake for the worse, its chemistry and wildlife. The pond and its park is at 181 U.S. 41 S, Inverness.

The city contracts with Texas Aquatic Harvesting to mechanically remove the unwanted vegetation every few years when it becomes too thick. Because of a unique deal, the harvesting work is done for the city at no charge. That’s because the city allows the company to deposit Inverness’ collected aquatic vegetation on an 8-acre area near the Inverness Airport south of the city, as well as vegetation the company collects from other jobs, at no charge.

The plan is also to also remove Hydrilla along the shores of Big Lake Henderson in Wallace Brooks and Liberty parks.

“These areas are highly visible and part of the public’s investment in the parks,” said Inverness City Manager Frank DiGiovanni. “We want these areas to be welcoming and inviting, and weeds don’t lend themselves to that.”

The Lake Wales-based Texas Aquatic Harvesting uses paddle-like boats to scoop up the unwanted vegetation and then hauls it away.

When it comes to hydrilla, one need not look far to see how it arrived in Florida.

Cooter pond secondary

A coot swims atop matted hydrilla in Cooter Pond. Soon the lake will be treated to reduce the invasive aquatic plant.

Native to southeast Asia, Hydrilla was first brought to Florida in Tampa and Miami in the 1950s through the aquarium trade, according to the University of Florida/IFAS. It has since spread throughout Florida and continues to spread in many parts of the United States, including California and between. Hydrilla has become a serious problem and is found in freshwater lakes, rivers, reservoirs, ponds, canals and ditches.

It is hardy in that it grows even in saltwater and requires less sunlight than most other native water plants, hence giving it an earlier foothold during the summer growing season. They can grow to 25 feet in length and easily tolerate winters.

Some states use Chinese Grass Carp, which are non-native to Florida, that eat hydrilla. The problem is that once the hydrilla is eradicated in a body of water, the foreign fish will eat most other aquatic vegetation, according to IFAS.

Other forms of controlling the plant include chemical sprays.

But DiGiovanni said they city doesn’t favor spraying because the weeds simply die and sink to the bottom, decaying and creating a muddy base.

Harvesting is far better for the environment, he said.

Contact Chronicle reporter Fred Hiers at fred.hiers@chronicleonline.com or 352-397-5914.

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