Is Big Muskego in Big Trouble?
The lake is in its "worst condition in years" after two dry summers. Residents want answers, but conservationists say they are doing what they can and expect winter to rectify problems with weeds and water levels.
Big Muskego Lake Deputy Commissioner Greg Burmeister was blunt.
"I haven't seen the weed situation this bad in years on the lake," he said.
Unprecedented dry conditions this summer and a mild winter and spring have led to a "perfect storm" on the lake to make it difficult for boaters to get on the lake and navigate once they do make it.
"We were in open water by March 3rd this year and boats were on the lake, so the weeds have had a chance to grow. The milfoil along with algae has made some areas impassable, and I'd say one-quarter to one-third of the lake is covered by it," Burmeister reported.
Generally, the growth of the invasive Eurasian milfoil dies off as water temperatures drop. However, the excessive heat and drought brought water temperatures in much of the lake to 90 degrees, killing off thousands of fish and providing a perfect environment for the weeds.
Muskego Conservation Coordinator Tom Zagar told the members present at the annual lake district meeting Tuesday night that the current lake levels are down by 9 1/2 inches, making the lake available only to pontoons or boats with 'go devil' motors that just skim the surface.
He explained that they have treated the lake with aquatic herbicides over 35 acres, but additional applications now wouldn't help as the plants aren't in the right growing stage for chemicals to be effective.
"It's a bit of an irony, you have to have a growing plant to kill it," he said. "There's a lot of milfoil on the surface forming that canopy, but at this stage it's dormant, and it wouldn't accept the chemical."
Residents were frustrated by a second summer without full use of the lake for recreation.
"We're hearing a lot of hope for next year, but hope isn't a strategy," said Kevin Ryan, a lake resident. "Our lake is damaged."
Others wanted the district to use a part of the $100,000 balance in the fund reserved for conservation land acquisition to perhaps expand chemical treatments next year, but were told the funds were designated for one specific purpose and couldn't be used that way In addition, a suggestion of the use of machine weed harvesters, which are used extensively on Little Muskego Lake, was not a possibility.
"We talked to the Little Muskego Lake District, which has five times the members who also pay five times the fees and it's just not an option," said Zagar. Primarily the big lake's overall shallowness would likely bottom out the craft, which uses cutters to 'mow' weeds and remove them from the lake, he explained.
Zagar defended last year's decision to manually lower lake levels in order to reanchor the bogs on the lake, and said that at the beginning of this season the levels were good. He too appeared frustrated by a seeming request to fix the lake, saying, "I guess I don't know what you feel we're doing wrong."
He explained later, "It's a bad situation I agree, but it's also been an unprecedented season. I believe we will return to a normal pattern, and much of these issues, which depend on the weather, will improve the weed situation and the lake levels."