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Healthy water, happy community

by DEVIN WEEKS
Staff Writer | June 16, 2022 1:08 AM

Visitors to the Third Street Boat Launch will notice a large, wood-framed sign filled with an artistic rendering of a majestic Lake Coeur d'Alene scene.

If they step a little closer, they'll see smaller images of curly-leaf pondweed and Eurasian watermilfoil. These invasive aquatic weeds wreak havoc on native plants and fish, as well as boat propellers, swimmers and those who just want to enjoy North Idaho's many bodies of water.

The message on the sign says it all: "Protect our beautiful lakes and rivers."

"We are very excited for today," Rob Stephens, a restoration biologist with Avista, said during the sign's unveiling Wednesday evening. "It's a special day."

He said the Idaho State Department of Agriculture, the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality and Avista have spent a lot of time and effort trying to control the curly-leaf pondweed, which was first detected around the Third Street Boat Launch in 2018.

"Up until now, we have done very little outreach to educate the public," Stephens said. "The public is the most likely vector for any invasive species, whether it's a mussel on a boat or whether it's a plant."

On the other side of the sign is a colorful, kid-friendly message: "Mudgy and Millie need your help to keep our lake clean." A four-panel story about stormwater pollution was created by original "Mudgy and Millie" illustrator Charles Reasoner to engage children in lake health education.

"The kids are already going around doing the 'Mudgy and Millie' tour," University of Idaho STEM outreach assistant Sharon Bosley said. "They can go there and learn about stormwater pollution. A lot of times parents don’t do something until their kids call them out on it. This brings attention to the kids who will tell their parents, 'Maybe we shouldn't wash our car in the street because the fish don’t like those bubbles.'

"We wanted something that would be positive and inspiring, and Mudgy and Millie are the mascots of Coeur d'Alene, really," she said.

Bosley said Lake Coeur d'Alene is fairly healthy, but could use everyone's help.

"We really want to educate people about stormwater," she said. "I don’t think a lot of people know, but many of our storm drains go right into the lake without filter.”

The two signs were a collaborative effort with Idaho State Department of Agriculture, the University of Idaho, the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, the city of Coeur d’Alene and Avista.

Organizers partnered with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, who brought aquatic invasive species-sniffing dogs Puddles and Fin to perform demonstrations at the unveiling. They hid sunflower seeds on a boat for the dogs to sniff out, which they quickly did. The super snooper canines later insisted on treats for a job well done.

Post Falls resident Brad Billington stopped by to check out the new signage at the boat launch.

"I think it's totally awesome and helpful," he said. "It's hard to know too much about caring for the environment."

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DEVIN WEEKS/Press

A new two-sided sign installed at the Third Street Boat Launch educates passersby about stormwater pollution and invasive aquatic plants in Lake Coeur d'Alene. The side facing McEuen Park features Mudgy and Millie.

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DEVIN WEEKS/Press

Idaho State Department of Agriculture program specialist Kim Holzer chats with Brad Billington on Wednesday during the unveiling of new educational signs installed at the Third Street Boat Launch. The signs are a collaborative effort with Idaho State Department of Agriculture, the University of Idaho, the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, the city of Coeur d’Alene and Avista.