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Carpet of duckweed stifles Clearwater lake

There is a living, floating, pea-green carpet on a small, nameless Clearwater lake; and residents would love to see it vacuumed up.

It's so thick "it looks like you can walk on it," said Betty Stockman, who can see the lake from her home.

It's turning the once-pretty lake near Lakeview Road into an ugly swamp.

The culprit? Lemnaceae, better known as duckweed, and it's in full bloom. The duckweeds are tiny flowering plants that form a network over the top of freshwater ponds and lakes, and when enough of them get together, they form what looks like a giant, slimy mat that is blown from shore to shore by the wind.

"It's one of your simplest plants," said Tom Miller, assistant director of engineering for the city. "It gets mistaken for algae."

But how did it get there?

"These plants come from all over the place," Miller said. "Birds bring them on their feet."

Evelyn Desaulniers has lived along the lake for 20 years and likes to sit outside in the evenings and look at it. She had never noticed duckweed before last spring. When it started to become an eyesore and began to kill the Nile perch, she called the city for help.

They sent prisoners on work detail to haul away the dead fish.

Desaulniers wasn't satisfied.

"Every time we call the city, they say it's a county problem," Desaulniers said.

The lake is owned by the county but maintained by the city, Miller said.

Little by little, Desaulniers started getting information _ and she didn't like what she heard.

"Environmentalists say they can't spray it because it would kill the fish," she said. "But the fish are dying anyway."

She said the neighbors have "been talking over the fence about it" and that the lake "is like moss or mold green."

"It's not healthy to walk out and smell the fish and see the flies," Desaulniers said. "We used to have great big bass. I used to catch 'em myself. The kids used to come fish, but I tell them don't (do it)."

Miller suggested that residents may be partially to blame for the mess. Their lawn fertilizers wash into the lake when it rains, and that feeds the duckweed nutrients it needs to thrive.

"The residents need to come together and work together to see what they can do to reduce the nutrients going into the lake," Miller said. "Local government cannot do it by themselves."

Lawn fertilizer "has nothing to do with that," Desaulniers said. "They keep passing the buck."

Miller tried to see a bright side.

"Duckweed isn't a bad thing," he said. "It's feeding waterfowl and some fish, and removes nutrients out of the water. And as summer goes on, it will fix itself. The plants will die."