Hydrilla Causing Multiple Problems At Lake Varner

Brad Gill | September 30, 2010

Covington’s Lake Varner has anglers talking about something other than the giant bass it produces. The word on lips these days is “hydrilla” and the effects it’s having on fishing, wildlife and the lake’s ability to efficiently produce drinking water.

“Hydrilla has matted probably 70 percent of the lake’s surface. You can go about 50 yards above the Flat Rock Road bridge, and after that, you can forget it,” said Rick Burns, of Madison, who runs Southern Jonboat Anglers.

Varner is an 820-acre, water-supply lake that only allows electric motors. Without a 225 Mercury on the back, churning through the grass is difficult for most. However, there are reportedly a few anglers enjoying the topwater hydrilla fishing, throwing frogs and rats like they do at Seminole and on Alabama’s Lake Guntersville.

“Lake Varner was built for a drinking water source,” said Mike Henderson, Varner’s reservoir manager. “When hydrilla floats down to the dam and stops (up) the intakes where the water goes to the water plant, we have a big problem. We’ve had to have divers come in and clean the upper intake a couple of times.”

Each day, 16 million gallons of water move through the intake to produce drinking water for residents of Walton and Newton counties. The county is working on acquiring a grant that could introduce 4,000 sterile grass carp into the lake as early as spring.

Clogged intakes and tougher fishing access aren’t the only problems stemming from hydrilla — wildlife is suffering, as well.

Susan Wilde, an assistant professor at the Warnell School of Forest Resources at the University of Georgia, said hydrilla in some lakes, particularly those in the Piedmont, produce an algae called stigonematales. Birds that eat the algae-infested hydrilla can contract Avian Vacuolar Myelinopathy (AVM), a neurological disease that comes from the stigonematales.

Coots commonly eat hydrilla. When a bald eagle eats a coot that has been infected with AVM, the eagle can contract the disease and die, too. Five bald eagles and a good number of coots have been found dead at Varner.

“Three of them (eagles) were documented as definitely being AVM deaths; the other two were assumed to be AVM deaths, but they didn’t get the carcasses in time to do the analysis,” said Susan.

Birds must be tested quickly to confirm that AVM is the cause. If you see any sick or dying birds on Varner, please call Susan at (706) 542-3346. You can also call Mike Henderson at (770) 784-2049.

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