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Invasive weed destroying Great Salt Lake marshlands

Invasive weeds, which can grown up to 12 feet high, are taking over the Great Salt Lake marshlands. Here you can see the marshlands with the invasive weeds (left) versus without (right). (Photo: Matt Michela / KUTV)

(KUTV) An invasive weed is choking the Great Salt Lake, sucking water away from native plants and robbing species of their natural habitat.

Experts estimate that phragmites sucks up more than 70,000 acre-feet of water from the Great Salt Lake every year.

Groups that support the ecology of the lake and use the marshlands for recreation are pleading with the state to declare war on the non-native plant.

2News joined an outdoorsman with the Utah Airboat Association and a representative from the State Division of Natural Resources on a boat ride into the thick of the problem at Farmington Bay, where 27,000 acres of marshland have been taken-over by phragmites.

In many areas the weeds are as thick as a cornfield and can grow as high as 12 feet.

"If phragmities was not there, there would probably be a foot of water and you'd be able to walk through that," said Chad Cranney, with the Division of Natural Resources, pointing out an area of marshland that was once an open area of shallow water covered with native plants and birds.

Many areas are now so overgrown with phragmites that they're virtually impassable and they're too deep and dense for native species of bird to make their homes.

"We worked in conjunction with forestry fire and state lands to get this area sprayed and then we came back and rolled it with a big roller that crushes down the dead material," says Cranney, who is tasked with managing the phragmites and admits its virtually impossible to get rid of. "Basically you need to spray this plant for three consecutive years and by then you are able to reduce it down to an acceptable level."

The DNR is trying to re-expose the shallow earth beneath the phragmites to sunlight, hoping to inspire the regrowth of native plants, but the root system just beneath the surface represents an even bigger problem.

"It takes over, covers a pond, sucks all the water out and moves on," says R. Jefre Hicks, with the Utah Airboaters Association, who is part of a vocal group imploring the state to do more to battle the weed and restore the lake. "First and foremost, the legislature has to identify this as a problem and let them spend a little bit of money on it. We need to protect it, or it's going to disappear and it's disappearing fast."

Follow Chris Miller on Twitter @ChrisMillerKUTV for breaking news, updates and more.

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