Release of beetles could save White River Lake water supply - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

7/15/10

Release of beetles could save White River Lake water supply

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By Michael Slother - email

WHITE RIVER LAKE, TEXAS (KCBD) - KCBD NewsChannel 11 recently reported that the water level of White River Lake has drastically improved. However, they are still about 16 feet below the normal water level.

Officials with White River Lake say that salt cedar trees, also known as tamarisk, are one of the factors to blame for the low water levels. If efforts aren't made to control the trees it could eventually affect the water supply of Crosbyton, Ralls, Post, and Spur.

"With the salt cedar's roots tapped down into that area where it could theoretically draw from the reservoir, it could and probably does restrict the amount of water that we have available for the member cities," said NRS district conservationist Charlie Rogers.

The salt cedar tree is common across the Southwest. Each tree can uptake nearly 200 gallons of water per day, and may be responsible for the loss of 2- 4.5 million acre-feet of water per year. This is enough water to supply more than 20 million people with water for one year or to irrigate over 1,000,000 acres of land.

"It became a pest plant because of its extreme aggressive nature in reproduction and spread, its volume less use of water, and its ability to choke and restrict flow of waters through channels," Rogers said.

White River Lake officials are taking a more eco-friendly way of dealing with this tree. They are releasing salt cedar leaf beetles. These beetles only eat the trees and do not affect other vegetation. Officials say that in the past, they have used chemicals to get rid of the trees, but these chemicals destroy all vegetation around the lake.

"Salt cedar spraying, mostly aerial, is done to control large sections of salt cedar. The problem with that is it not only takes out the salt cedar, but everything in that area. The grasses, the cottonwood trees, anything," said White River Municipal Water District manager Mickey Rogers.

The first beetle colonies were real eased three years ago and are already making an impact. White River officials hope the current beetle release yields more of the same.

"The beetle does a natural process of defoliating the salt cedar trees which keeps them from drinking as much water as they do."

The beetles reproduce quickly but once they're done munching on the problematic tree, they die off.

"There is no comparison, the beetle by far being environmentally friendly, a biological control, the longevity of that experiment. It is the right thing to do and yields the successes that the member cities expect of the White River Municipal Water District," Rogers said.

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