Mirror Pond weeds get whacked

Andy Tullis / The Bulletin John Sarmiento operates an aquatic weed harvester to cut down some of the weeds near the Drake Park footbridge in Mirror Pond.

For the past several days, a large, paddle-wheeled oddity chugged back and forth along Mirror Pond, causing a number of people to pause as they crossed the Drake Park footbridge.

This strange white gizmo, as one passer-by described it, moved tediously through the water, churning up clump after clump of mushy, green vegetation that would later be loaded onto a flat-bed trailer and hauled away.

Some wondered aloud if this was part of a long-overdue plan to dredge Mirror Pond, while others thought it was a means to collect trash that had been dumped in the water.

“Some people have hardly ever seen this before,” said Tommy San Nicolas, as he stood on the footbridge Sunday watching his co-worker John Sarmiento steer the boat through the pond. “If I saw this for the first time, I’d be curious, too.”

San Nicolas works for Aquatic Environments, based out of Northern California, and he said his company is working with the Bend Park & Recreation District to remove underwater vegetation that has sprouted up on the bottom of Mirror Pond.

The 5-ton machine, which is called an aquatic weed harvester, has sickle blades that move back and forth to cut the vegetation. A conveyor belt then lifts the weeds from the water and moves the vegetation into a 200-cubic-foot hopper that will be unloaded onto a trailer and taken to a Bend Park & Recreation composting site.

“It’s just like a lawnmower —but on water,” San Nicolas said.

Sarmiento said that on Saturday he and San Nicolas cut about 3,400 cubic feet of vegetation from Mirror Pond, and said there’s a lot more left to do. He ranked Mirror Pond as an eight out of 10 as far as how bad the weed problem is.

“It’s pretty dense,” he said. “The only part that’s clear is the channel, which is a lot deeper.”

While Aquatic Environments is now doing work for the park district, the company first started working in Mirror Pond because Bend resident Mike Hollern wanted to clear out the weeds in front of his house.

Hollern first saw the machine at work at Black Butte Ranch, and asked the company if it would do some work north of the footbridge near his home. The pond gets thick with vegetation, he said, which catches trash and makes it hard to get a canoe out.

“It just doesn’t look like a river, it looks like a mucky place,” he said.

He asked the city of Bend, the Bend Park & Recreation District and the Department of State Lands if he needed a permit to remove the plants. And when they said no, as long as he didn’t remove a certain amount of mud, he brought Aquatic Environments in for a couple of days.

“In my mind, it’s a pilot project. It’s not something that will solve the problem long term,” Hollern said. But it was something he could do while the agencies are deciding how to tackle the issue.

After Hollern’s project, the Bend Park & Recreation District hired the company, for about $3,000, to remove some of the aquatic weeds south of the footbridge, which is along Drake Park and the Harmon Park fields.

“That area’s shallower, and the weeds are thick,” said Don Horton, executive director of the park district. “It’s kind of an experiment to see whether or not this would be a solution to take care of the weed growth problem until we can have a more permanent solution.”

Silt building up in Mirror Pond has caused some areas to be very shallow, he said. And with lots of sunlight hitting the sandbars, the plants thrive.

“The plant material’s getting so thick there, in the fall when the plants start to die off, it creates a really bad smell and grows thick across the pond,” Horton said.

The park district, city of Bend and others signed a memorandum of understanding last week to form a steering committee that will start to tackle the Mirror Pond sediment issue, he said. The group will take a look at options that could range from doing nothing and allowing the pond to silt in, to dredging the area and removing accumulated sediments, Horton said.

“What we’re doing with the plant growth now is an intermittent step to keep the pond looking nice and healthy,” he said.

The aquatic weed harvester — nicknamed White Glide — is one of a fleet that Aquatic Environments uses to clean out unwanted vegetation from waterways, said George Forni, owner of the company. The company does work in rivers, deltas, lakes and ponds across the West.

The challenge in this case was getting access to the pond. Forni said the company had to work with the park district to get permission to cut across Pageant Park to get to Mirror Pond. And over the weekend, workers had to cut some railings off the machine to fit under the footbridge, he said.

“Every job’s a little different,” he added. “The bottom line is, this is what we do.”

Aquatic Environments won’t be able to completely clear out all the weeds in Mirror Pond in the time it spends in Bend. Even if the company did, however, Forni said it would only be a temporary solution because the weeds will grow back.

“Eradication is not a word used in vegetation control,” he said.

Source: The Bulletin ©2010