Attack of the killer hydrilla HOWARD COUNTY



It sounds like a name more appropriate for the reptilian star of a Japanese horror flick than a leafy underwater weed.

The pesky plant is nonetheless emerging as a monstrous headache for Howard County officials, who say the growth of hydrilla in Centennial Lake could harm that east county tourist attraction.

There is even concern that the weeds could wreak further havoc by spreading from the lake to Little Patuxent River, a key link in the Patuxent drainage basin that flows into Chesapeake Bay. Since 1988, the county has spent nearly $50,000 to control the Centennial Lake hydrilla with herbicides. The chemicals have been applied on a spot basis to date, at about $8,000 a year.

Seeking a less expensive, more long-range approach to the problem, the county asked the Environmental Protection Agency for a $44,600 grant to study ways of controlling the hydrilla. The EPA offered the money, but it could not be used until the County Council gave its approval. The council did so last Monday night, unanimously.

According to Jeffrey Bourne, director of county recreation and parks, the study will likely yield a multi-faceted program for subduing the hydrilla. Just as farmers and gardeners keep destructive insects at bay with "integrated pest management" involving chemical substances and predators, the county could employ a sort of IPM on the Centennial Lake weeds, Mr. Bourne says.

Meanwhile, council Chairwoman Shane Pendergrass has suggested setting loose a fleet of triploid grass carp, a genetically altered, non-reproducing kind of carp that is a voracious eater of hydrilla. However, the fish is native to Asia and could not be placed in the lake because of a state ban against the introduction of non-indigenous fish.

The state would have to give its permission for an exemption to the ban, but that won't happen in this case. State fisheries officials, unconvinced the triploid can't reproduce, have nightmare visions of the carp spawning offspring that eventually travel to the bay and denude it of its aquatic grasses.

Those nightmares could yet come true, even if the triploid is kept out of Maryland. Pennsylvania is about to lift its ban on the fish, and Maryland officials worry the triploid will swim down the Susquehanna River and do to Chesapeake Bay what Godzilla did to Tokyo.

Hydrilla is scary enough. The last thing the state needs is a double bill also featuring Triploid.

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