Plants invade shorelines and shallow waters of the Tennessee River
July and August are the worst months for invasive aquatic plant growth along the Tennessee River system.
The plants have both positives and negatives. They provide homes for fish and are good for other wildlife, but they can be a nuisance when overgrown, such as hindering water access at boat ramps.
TVA monitors and treats public areas to find a balance in plant life to benefit everyone.
The boat ramp at Chester Frost Park in Hixson, TN is one of the spots that TVA treats along the Tennessee River. They invest several million dollars a year to keep recreation areas clean throughout the entire river system.
The biggest problem plant is hydrilla.
The aquatic plants grow along the shoreline in shallow water typically up to 8 or 9 feet deep.
Some grow up from the bottom, while others float on the water surface.
TVA manages the plants along public use areas, such as parks, camps, and non-profits, but not private residences.
Their goal is to find a balance with all stakeholders, so fishermen and swimmers have maximum use of the reservoirs.
"The majority of what we are dealing with are invasives, mostly hydrilla and milfoil, which are invasive species that are not native to this area. We do deal with some native plants," Stephen Turner, Program Manager for the Aquatic Plant Management Program at TVA, explained.
Harvesters are used to remove plants on some lakes, cutting lanes out for boats.
However, more commonly, herbicides are applied, which are more economical and efficient. Herbicides are exclusively used on Chickamauga Lake.
Certified contractors use EPA approved aquatic herbicides.
"They actually use airboats. They inject the herbicide actually into the water. Behind the boat, they have hoses that go down into the water that actually put the herbicide down on the plant. It's not a surface application," said Turner of the process.
This application prevents misting into the air.
The plants have to be treated continuously because they grow back just like newly mowed grass.
Treatment starts in late May around Memorial Day, and then they work hard ahead of both Independence Day and Labor Day during this peak invasive aquatic plant season.
"Keep it good through the summer, and then our last big push is for Labor Day to make sure that everybody, that all the access is available. And, everybody can get out and have a good time one last time before the summer is over," Turner stated.
Plants typically start decreasing after Labor Day, but due to flooding earlier this year, they are about 4 weeks behind their normal growth schedule.
They will stop growing and go away as the water cools in the winter before returning in the spring.
Turner added that the plant life in the Tennessee River is not the same as the toxic blue-green algae related to dog deaths in North Carolina and Georgia. The algae develops in stagnant bodies of water like ponds. The Tennessee River system is moving more quickly.
"As far as our reservoirs, we've never had issues with it, and we haven't found anything that would cause any reason to worry," assured Turner ahead of Labor Day weekend.
Boaters should take action to prevent the further spread of invasive plants, which often first show up around boat ramps.
"Make sure people clean their boats, their trailers. Make sure there's nothing. Check your live well if you are a fisherman. You know those kind of things. Make sure there is no plants in there," advised Turner to avoid spreading invasive plants.
If you are a resident with aquatic plants around your property’s shoreline or dock, you should not treat them yourself. Each state has regulations on the herbicides that can be used, so you should hire a professional company that's licensed, certified, and chartered in the state.