Chapter 3 - Develop A Problem Statement (Step A)

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What Is The Problem?

Before a group of interested people can make good decisions about managing aquatic plants, they have to agree on the problem. The important uses of the water body that are being limited because of aquatic plants should be described in a problem statement.

Preparing a problem statement is the first step the steering committee should take. The committee's first-draft version should be presented to the rest of the community for further discussion and refinement. The initial problem statement might be modified several times before the Plan is completed.

How To Write A Clear Problem Statement

The following steps can help you develop a realistic problem statement:

  1. Make a list of users of the water body.
  2. Find out what users consider to be the problem.
  3. Group the problems into categories.
  4. Condense the main categories into a problem statement.

Let's examine each of these tasks in more detail.

1. Make a list of users of the water body - It is important to identify everyone who has an interest in the water body. The steering committee itself may represent a variety of users and can start with its own membership for ideas on who uses or has an interest in the water body. Efforts should be made to include as many different users as possible. (Read more about how to reach out to other concerned users of the water body in Chapter 5-Involve the Public.)

When is a Plant a Weed?

Determining whether a plant is a problem is not always easy. A plant is considered a pest or a weed when it grows where it is not wanted. Sometimes the reasons for not wanting it are purely aesthetic (the plant is considered unsightly or smelly); sometimes they are economic (as when presence of the plant affects the value of property); and sometimes they are ecological (as when a species, such as the non-native invader milfoil, threatens the well-being of an aquatic ecosystem). In addition, attitudes toward the plant can vary depending on how each person uses the water body. Surface mats of shoreline water lilies may be pleasing to some, but not to those who swim in the area. Dense growth of submersed vegetation may be a problem to the angler using a motor-boat but not to the pilot of a float plane that skims the surface of the water. It is important to recognize these differences in attitudes about aquatic plants when determining if a nuisance condition exists.

2. Find out what users consider to be the problem Different users will have different points of view about the water body's problem. Therefore, it is important to get a broad section of the public involved. Only then can you consider the full variety of perspectives and see to it that they are included in the problem statement.

3. Group the problems into categories This task involves grouping problem descriptions according to what uses they affect. Some uses of a water body that can be affected by excessive aquatic plant growth are:

  • Fishing.
  • Swimming.
  • Motorboat access/passage.
  • Visual enjoyment.
  • Wildlife habitat.

Problems are often associated with the amount of vegetation as well as its location in the water body. Thick growths of submersed or floating plants in beach or shoreline areas may pose a serious safety risk to swimmers or waders. Dense, surfacing plants can be a hazard to those using non-motorized craft (rowers, rafters, sail boarders). Launch, marina and dock areas clogged by weeds can hinder motorboat access. Most importantly, the presence of any invasive, non-native plant species in a water body is a serious situation (see box below). Left unchecked, non-native weed species such as Eurasian watermilfoil are aggressive competitors. They can rapidly crowd out native vegetation, creating nuisance conditions affecting many beneficial uses.

4. Condense main categories into a problem statement The final task in Step A is to shorten the major categories into a brief description of the main problems posed by aquatic plants in the water body. Describe the specific locations of problem plant communities. Use numbers, if available, to describe how the problems affect beneficial uses of the water body. For example, "The number of serious swimming accidents caused this year by problem plants near the swimming beach was X," or "The community lost Y dollars in revenue this year because the annual rowing event had to be called off due to excessive aquatic plant growth." Statements like these make the problem statement specific for your water body and your community.

Example Of A Problem Statement

After completing Step A, you will end up with a problem statement that might sound something like this: "In 1985, Eurasian watermilfoil was found in Lake Tranquil. In the following three years, milfoil spread throughout the boat launch area of the 100-acre lake, forming dense shoreline stands out to 12 feet deep. In addition, dense stands of water lilies choke the swimming area at the opposite end of the lake. Swimming, boating, fishing and other recreational uses have been severely impacted. Local residents are afraid to swim in the lake and are very concerned about the safety of their children. A special rowing tournament held annually since 1975 on the lake in mid-summer can no longer be conducted due to surfacing plant growth. Cancellation of this event resulted in an estimated loss of revenue of X dollars annually. In addition, the average number of fishing days in Lake Tranquil declined from Y days in 1985 to Z days in 1988."

References on Problem Statement Development

  • The Lake and Reservoir Restoration Guidance Manual4
  • Management Guide for Lakes and Reservoirs5

Native vs. Non-native Plants: What Difference Does It Make?

Our lakes, ponds and streams have been involved in a long, continuous process of evolution. As each system evolved and achieved a natural balance all its own, native species of aquatic plants and animals became uniquely connected. Native plant communities serve a variety of important functions in aquatic systems. These range from providing food, shelter and nesting sites for fish, waterfowl and other animals to protecting water quality and quantity and shoreline stability. Invasion of a system by a foreign species, however, can quickly destroy the fine balance that took so many years to develop. Away from the diseases and insects that serve as natural controls in their native regions, invader plants can grow and spread quickly. In doing so, they can damage the structure and function of ecosystems by crowding out native plants and changing habitat quality for fish and wildlife.

Introduction of exotic (non-native) plants, threatens the balance of our regional water bodies. Some plants considered invasive and non-native in Washington State include: Eurasian watermilfoil, Parrotfeather (milfoil), Brazilian elodea, and purple loosestrife. A common means of introduction of exotic plants is through stem fragments that get caught on boats, trailers, and fishing gear. The plant invader is given a chance to spread from one water body to another if "infected" boating equipment is not properly inspected and all stem fragments removed. Species like Eurasian watermilfoil can reproduce easily by stem fragments. Dense milfoil stands can change water quality, interfere with recreational uses and severely affect fisheries and waterfowl habitat. Sometimes, exotic plants can be purchased from aquatic nurseries and placed in landscapes and home aquaria by the general public. Animals such as waterfowl can also transport seeds or stem fragments from one location to another.

The presence of a non-native, invasive aquatic plant species in your water body is a serious situation. It's presence should form a primary part of the problem description.

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