Aquatic Invasive Species

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Introducing non-native species into Iowa waters can upset the balance of the ecosystem, hurting the environment. Aquatic nuisance species (Eurasian Milfoil, Zebra Mussels, Asian Carp, etc.) are most often spread between waterways by hitching a ride on boats and trailers. When transplanted into new waters, these organisms proliferate, displacing native species and damaging the water resource.     

Eurasian Watermilfoil

In nutrient-rich lakes, Eurasian watermilfoil can form thick underwater stands of tangled stems and vast mats of vegetation at the water's surface. In shallow areas, the plant can interfere with water recreation such as boating, fishing, and swimming. The plant's floating canopy can also crowd out important native water plants.  

Milfoil is found in waters less than 20-feet deep. It may form mats in waters less than 15-feet deep. A native look-alike northern watermilfoil has fewer (5-10) leaflet pairs.

A key factor in the plant's success is its ability to reproduce through stem fragmentation and underground runners. A single segment of stem and leaves can take root and form a new colony.  Fragments clinging to boats and trailers can spread the plant from lake to lake. The mechanical clearing of weed beds for beaches, docks, and landings creates thousands of new stem fragments that can drift with the wind. Removing native vegetation creates perfect habitat for invading Eurasian watermilfoil.

The closest infestations are Mill Creek and Dog Creek Lake in O'Brien County near Paullina. Also the Twin City lakes - particularly Lake Minnetonka.



Zebra Mussels

Zebra mussels are small clam like animals about the size of your fingernail - when fully grown. Zebra mussels have multiple stripes that give them their "zebra" name and are shaped like the letter "D". Zebra Mussels are very fast growing with sharp edges that cut swimmers feet. Zebras can also clog water intake pipes. (All of residents in the watershed draw their drinking water from the Iowa Great lakes.)

In 2005, two adult Zebra Mussels were found in Clear Lake (Less than 100 miles from the Iowa Great Lakes). In 2006 juvenile Zebra Mussels were found. By the fall of 2007 Zebras are growing exponentially at Clear Lake. Lake Minnetonka and other lakes around the Twin Cities along with the Mississippi River are also infested.

In September of 2012 a single zebra mussel was found in Upper Gar Lake. In December 2012 three additional juvenile zebra mussels were found attached to docks/hoists removed from East Okoboji Lake, increasing the likelihood that the invasive species may be establishing itself in the popular northwest Iowa chain of lakes. 

Additional Information Local Zebra Mussels CLICK HERE

ZM Frequently Asked Questions CLICK HERE


Asian Carp - Silver Carp are the jumping fish

Bighead and silver carp are two species of Asian Carp that impact Iowa's waters. Silver carp can jump above the water as boats drive by, injuring boaters, tubers, and water skiers.  This species can grow to be three feet long and weigh up to sixty pounds. Bighead carp can reach sizes up to five feet long and ninety pounds. Both species complete with native species for food and space.

Both bighead and silver Asian carp are in the Missouri River - while bighead and silver carp have found their way up the Little Sioux River. In August 2011 bighead Asian carp were found in East Okoboji near the "narrows". In September 2011 Silver Asian Carp were found in Elk Lake and Lost Island Lake near Ruthven - just 15 miles from the Iowa Great Lakes.   Video of silver Asian carp

In December 2012 an Electric Fish Barrier was completed at the Lower Gar Outlet to prevent the further migration of Asian Carp into the Iowa Great Lakes.




Electric Fish Barrier Is Operating

The electric fish barrier at the Lower Gar outlet is activated and is protecting the Iowa Great Lakes from Asian carp. It is loctaed on 230th Avenue East of Highway 71.

photo copy

The new fish barrier shows a caution flashing light when activated. Although the electricity level used is not fatal to humans or fish, it’s recommended that people do not go around the fence.


Summer 2014 Volunteer AIS Inspection Program - Iowa Great Lakes

The economic impact to the Iowa Great Lakes if our lakes were infested with Eurasian watermilfoil or zebra mussels is tremendous. The economic impact would be measured in the tens of millions of dollars - maybe $100 million. It is critical to note that once a lake has become infested with Eurasian watermilfoil or zebra mussels there is no effective way to remove them.

For the last seven years, the lake protective associations and the DNR have used many communications tools to educate the boating public: highway billboards, cable television, newspaper articles, local radio stations, boat ramp kiosks, boater's maps, DNR personnel, and community volunteers. We plan to continue all of these efforts for the 2014 boating season.

Our Aquatic Invasive Species experience has taught us the most effective way to communicate the AIS message is by direct face-to-face contact on the boat ramp. With 12 major boat ramps in Dickinson County, we will not have enough DNR Water Patrol Officers or DNR Fisheries Bureau summer interns to provide sufficient boat ramp coverage during busy boating days.

We are looking for volunteers from the lakes community that would be willing to spend some time on the boat ramps educating boaters about the threat of Aquatic Invasive Species. If each of us would volunteer two hours a month in June, July, and August we would have all of our boat ramps covered. Some volunteers may want to contribute more than two hours per month - that is encouraged.

We are hopeful that the combination of the SCA interns and the volunteers will help protect our lakes. Please join our effort.

SCA Interns                         

For the 2014 summer there will be four Student Conservation Association (SCA) Interns that provided additional boater education at the boat ramps. The SCA interns are provided housing at Iowa Lakeside Laboratory and will have most of their meals there. The Lakeside Lab contact for the SCA program is Lisa Roti, at 712/ 337-3669. Email

The interns are college students with an interest in conservation and will gain valuable work experience during the summer. Their room and board is provided and they receive a college stipend at the end of the summer. The SCA interns were at the busiest four boat ramps on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and holidays. Their exact work schedule and boat ramp location will be determined by the DNR (Mike Hawkins). Funding for the SCA interns was provided by a grant from the Dickinson County Water Quality Commission and the Okoboji Protective Association.

How to Volunteer

  1. Print out and review  a copy of the AIS Volunteer Instructions listed below
  2. Obtain your volunteer equipment from the DNR Fish Hatchery or the Maritime Museum. Review the training DVD to understand your duties. Complete the DNR Keepers of the Land Volunteer Waiver when you obtain your volunteer materials and leave it with DNR Fish Hatchery or Maritime Museum staff.
  3. Contact the Lake Coordinator to provide your name and contact information. You can discuss with the Coordinator the best ramp and time you are available to volunteer. The use of email is preferred because it requires less time.

AIS Boat Ramp Volunteer Equipment

The volunteer equipment includes the orange safety vest, clipboard, volunteer training DVD, Boater’s Maps, boat ramp report form, and 2013 trailer stickers. The equipment can be obtained from

  • Maritime Museum – Arnolds Park Amusement Park

  • DNR Fish Hatchery – 122 252nd Avenue - Orleans

           2011 Aquatic Invasive Species Volunteer Program Instructions  CLICK HERE

           2012 Boat Ramp Report Form  CLICK HERE

AIS Volunteer Training

The AIS training DVD - viewable below - or available at the DNR Fish Hatchery or the Maritime Museum provides the information you will need. If you were a volunteer in previous summers the DVD might be a good way to brush up on your boat ramp skills.

If you feel you need more training than that provided by the DVD contact the Lake Coordinator. There might be a live training scheduled that you could attend. You could also work with one of the SCA summer interns to gain experience.

                   View the AIS Boat Ramp Volunteer Training Video  12:31

                         PART 1  CLICK HERE                PART 2  CLICK HERE


AIS Video Information  CLICK HERE



West Okoboji

Boat Ramps: Emerson Bay, Triboji, Hattie Elston


    Jane Shuttleworth


    Cell  712/ 330-7858


 Iowa Lakeside Laboratory

    1838 Highway 86

    Milford, IA 51351




East Okoboji & Lower Lakes

Boat Ramps: Highway 9, Trigg's, Minnewashta, East Okoboji Beach


Spirit Lake

Boat Ramps: Marble Beach Templar Park, Ainsworth, Mini-Wakan


If you are unable to contact the Lake Coordinator you can contact the Water Safety Council by sending an email to with your name and contact information.

AIS Information Takes To the Air

Communicating Aquatic Invasive Species information to boaters coming into the Iowa Great Lakes area has been a challenge. Many boaters are visiting our chain of lakes for the first time or only visit our lakes once a year. It is important that we communicate that boaters should drain, inspect, and clean their boats and trailers before launching.

In 2010 the DNR launched an Information Radio System to inform boaters about the threat of Aquatic Invasive Species. You may have encountered these stations at airports, tourist attractions, and for road construction. The new radio system has been licensed to operate at 1640 KHz. on the AM broadcast radio band.

The Iowa and Dickinson County Highway Departments have installed roadway information signs this spring to alert boaters to this new AIS radio broadcast. Funding for this new broadcast system is being provided by the Dickinson County Water Quality Commission.

Boaters should follow a simple set of procedures each time when leaving the water:

  • Remove any visible plants, fish, or animals before transporting equipment

  • Drain water from all equipment (motor, livewell, bilge, transom well) before transporting

  • Clean and dry anything that comes into contact with water (boats, trailers, equipment, boots, clothing, dogs).

  • Before moving to another waterbody either:

  • Rinse your boat and equipment with hot (104 degree) water; or

  • Spray your boat and trailer with a high pressure water at a car wash; or

  • Dry your boat and equipment for at least 5 days

  • Never release plants, fish, or animals into a waterbody unless they came out of that waterbody. Empty unwanted bait in the trash

  • Learn to identify aquatic invasive species. Report any suspected infestations to the nearest DNR fisheries station.

If a boat, motor, trailer, live well, etc. have been out of the water for a considerable length of time  (Five days minimum – ten days better) any AIS should have died. To be sure, everything should be washed with hot water and allowed to dry before entering the lake.

It is illegal in Iowa to:                                                                                   

  1. Transport Aquatic Invasive Species on a public road.

  2. Place a trailer or launch a watercraft with Aquatic Invasive Species attached in public waters.

  3. Operate a watercraft in a marked Aquatic Invasive Species area.

  4. The penalty for violating this law is a $500 fine plus costs.

According to Iowa law, the DNR may prohibit boating, fishing, swimming, and trapping in infested bodies of water.

For More Information on Aquatic Invasive Species.............

See Iowa Department of Natural Resources AIS website CLICK HERE      

Zebra Mussels Fact Sheet CLICK HERE

Frequently Asked Questions

Also see U.S. Fisheries & Wildlife Service websiteCLICK HERE


     Click here



Iowa Great Lakes Water Safety Council PO Box 232 Spirit Lake, IA 51360