Clean your boats: Minnesotans get it, why doesn’t the EPA?

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“Pick It or Ticket.” That’s a tortured line of poetry, but it sums up the message the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is sending to Minnesota boaters. When you trailer your boat from one lake to another, you have to clean it thoroughly. Otherwise, you could be transporting aquatic invasive species like zebra mussels or Eurasian water milfoil from an infested lake to a clean one. And you could get fined.

The DNR has used other catch phrases, with softer pitches like “Clean Boats, Clean Waters” and “Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers!™” But behind those educational encouragements is a state law that requires boat users to clean, drain and dry their boats out before transporting them to another lake.

Too bad the Environmental Protection Agency isn’t going to do the same thing for the Great Lakes. The big ships rolling into Duluth every day now are carrying thousands of gallons of water from other ports. That’s how many of the bad guys in the Duluth-Superior harbor got here to begin with, nasty invaders like zebra mussel and ruffe.

Under newly proposed rules known as the Vessel General Permit, existing ships on the Great Lakes do not have to treat their ballast water as they travel from one Great Lakes port to another. This is known as the “laker exemption.” Ships coming into the Great Lakes from overseas ports have to exchange their ballast water in the ocean and have state-of-the-art treatment plants on board. About 95 percent of the ballast water passing under the Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge is coming from other Great Lakes and would be untreated under the new Vessel General Permit.

Sure, it’s not as easy to clean a thousand-foot laker as it is to clean your fourteen-foot Lund. You don’t just pull the drain plug and let it drip-dry. But the consequences for the environment of not cleaning up between stops are far more serious for an ore boat than it is for a bass boat.

With the fishing opener coming up in a month or so, Minnesota citizens will work hard to keep our 10,000 lakes safe from invading species. Unfortunately, there’s not much we can do about the biggest source of invaders of all.