Killer Weed

The life-suffocating Salvinia molesta has entered Texas waterways. It's green, fast and deadly.

The uncertainty of the coming spring, with its increased growth rates and increase in people using the lakes, is gnawing at the scientists fighting the problem. Whether Giant Salvinia undergoes a major outbreak and becomes a watery kudzu that eats up budgets for years to come, or whether the Toledo Bend infestation merely becomes a notable footnote in the nation's aquatic history, will not be known for some time.

"We're just learning as we go along. We're forced to, because this has shown up in our back yard," Helton says. "Sometimes you sit there and think about when that first fire ant crawled onto the dock in Mobile or New Orleans or wherever it was; if someone had just squished it, they would've saved us all a lot of trouble. The same thing here."

"We'll have a pretty good idea by this time next year how all this is going to go," Hartmann says. "We'll either be walking around with our heads hanging or feeling pretty good."

Even if some combination of mechanical, biological and chemical means becomes the answer, ridding the state of the plant will not be easy. "Even if we're feeling like we can get a handle on it, it's going to take several years for Toledo Bend to get back to normal," he says. "This thing is a booger.

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