Funding for river weed control proposed

The Natural Resources Committee heard testimony on a bill Feb. 18 that would provide funding to clear the state’s rivers of invasive plant species.

Under LB711, introduced by Sen. Dan Hughes of Venango, the state Department of Agriculture would receive $2 million annually to control invasive plants, noxious weeds and other vegetation in and near the banks of any natural stream. The department would apply for additional federal funds and provide grants to weed management entities, local weed control groups and natural resources districts.

The department would administer the Riparian Vegetation Management Task Force, whose members would be appointed by the governor from the natural resources districts, the Department of Natural Resources, the Nebraska Weed Control Association and other agencies in addition to landowners. The task force would develop a vegetation management plan, analyze the cost effectiveness of available treatments and provide an annual report to the Legislature on its progress.

Hughes said the bill would reinstate the task force, which was created in 2007 and ran out of funding in 2014. He said the program should be restarted because of its success.

“Invasive species don’t ever take a year off because they don’t have money,” he said.

Brent Meyer, weed control superintendent for Lancaster County, spoke in favor of the bill. He said the original project succeeded in clearing thousands of acres of weeds from the state’s river systems, allowing them to flow more freely. This reduced the severity of floods, protected wildlife habitats and preserved more water for agricultural and recreational use, Meyer said. Now that funding for the project has run out, he added, those invasive plants are regaining their foothold.

“The battle is not over,” he said. “In fact we are just beginning to realize the impact invasive vegetation can have on our river systems.”

Mike Clements, general manager of the Lower Republican Natural Resources District, also testified in support of the bill. He said the Republican River’s flow was measured at only 300 cubic feet per second in 2007 because its basin was engulfed in phragmites, an invasive reed with a dense root system that absorbs large quantities of water. After four years of spraying and tearing out root systems under the previous task force, Clements said, the river can now handle a flow of 1,100 cubic feet per second.

“This is something that will have to continue forever,” he said. “If that would go untreated for a couple of years we’d be right back to where we were.”

No one spoke in opposition to the bill and the committee took no immediate action on it.

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