UNCERTAIN — Due to the success of its climate-controlled weevil greenhouse operation, the Caddo Biocontrol Alliance is amplifying its fight against giant salvinia at Caddo Lake with the construction of a new greenhouse project.

“Caddo Lake has been dealing with giant salvinia since 2006. Caddo Lake’s Biocontrol Alliance built the first greenhouse for this project in 2014,” Robert Speight, president of the CBA, said Wednesday during a groundbreaking ceremony for the project. “Today our efforts in controlling this plant, using a natural biological control agent, are expanding.

“(The) new greenhouse will double our capacity to produce giant salvinia weevils, which is the natural agent (to manage) giant salvinia,” Speight said.

Moving forward, the new greenhouse at 385 Cypress Drive, will not only be identical to the existing facility, but located right next to it on property that’s been secured by the Caddo Lake Institute.

Funds to construct the second greenhouse were provided by a partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Cypress Valley Navigation District and many grassroots donors. The first greenhouse was constructed during a massive outbreak of the invasive weed on the lake in 2013.

“In 2013, salvinia was so bad on the lake you couldn’t even get to Johnson’s Ranch marina over here; so there was a community outcry and we responded to it with this,” Speight said.

Speight thanked, volunteers, partners, the Harrison County Commissioners Court and the cities of Uncertain and Marshall for their aid.

“The number of nonprofit and government organizations working together to conserve the unique ecology and economic integrity of Caddo Lake are a testament to how valuable this natural resource, ‘a Wetland of International Importance,’ is to the region,” said Speight.

Onsite Office/Lab

Laura-Ashley Overdyke, Executive Director of Caddo Lake Institute, said CLI is excited to provide the land for the new greenhouse along with a great onsite laboratory and office space for CBA.

“For many years, the Caddo Biocontrol Alliance has been using this weevil greenhouse next door,” she said. “They don’t have bathrooms there; they don’t have an office space there, and the laboratory was about 10 miles away at the refuge.

“So when they had a chance to build a new greenhouse, Caddo Lake Institute wanted them to have some security and to have a nice, long lease,” said Overdyke. “So we got them a lease of this land for a longer term where they can build that greenhouse with some confidence for the future, but they can also use this manufactured home for bathrooms, for office space.

“It’ll make it a lot more convenient for them,” said Overdyke, sharing they’ve already started putting the building to use.

The provision of land and onsite laboratory facility is just an extension of CLI’s longtime support to the preservation of Caddo Lake.

“The Caddo Lake Institute has been investing in Caddo since ’93,” she said. “Millions and millions of dollars have been invested in this area, and this is just a continuation of support of local nonprofits like Caddo Biocontrol Alliance, who are focused on specific things.

“We’re focused on all the issues that matter to Caddo Lake, and salvinia is certainly one of those; and we help Caddo Bio Control Alliance to achieve their mission,” she said.

Construction Timeline

Speight said the public should see some progress soon as contractors begin to start leveling the dirt on the property to prepare for construction.

“Probably within the next week or so, you’ll be seeing dirt getting turned and hauled in,” said Speight.

While the greenhouse was ordered Wednesday, it will be about 10 to 12 weeks before it’s built.

“It’ll (take) a couple of weeks to put the dirt down, get it settled, packed and then probably about mid-October they’ll be putting the greenhouse up,” said Speight. “Then we’ll start putting the tanks in it, getting all the internal, the power to it and all that.

“Our goal is to be ready by spring of 2020 to actually have weevils released out on the lake, in the second greenhouse,” he said.

Salvinia Levels

Speight said they are looking forward to the project as the facility will help CBA double its capacity to produce weevils that exclusively live in, feed on and damage what’s considered the world’s worst aquatic weed — giant salvinia.

“We released over 200,000 in 2018 out of that existing greenhouse,” he said. “This one will let us, hopefully, double that amount, so that in the peak summer growing time we’re putting twice as much weevils out as we have in the past, so that helps control the plant.”

Currently 1,000 acres of Caddo are covered with the plant, which is down from a high of 12,000 acres in 2013, officials said. Speight attributes the success to Mother Nature, a strong spraying program and the production of weevils.

“Mother Nature and Parks and Wildlife — with their herbicide applications — have really done a good job in helping keep control of it,” said Speight. “We’re able to use weevils in spots where they can’t spray and where Mother Nature didn’t get to it, so it’s a collaborative effort between state and local entities.

“Hard freezes in 2017 and high water in 2018 and 2019 have greatly reduced coverage of the plant, along with aggressive herbicide and weevil applications,” he said. “The expansion provides additional resources to stay on top of this difficult situation and maximize chances for success.”

Speight acknowledged CBA’s two part-time employees — Laura Speight, project manager, and Hattie Hackler, the greenhouse manager — for their diligent work in producing the weevils. In addition to the employees, they also depend on volunteers in release efforts.

“They work together to do this,” he said. “It’s not a 40-hour a week job, but it’s time sensitive. So when something needs to be done they need to be here to do it ...because when weevils are ready to be released, you cannot just wait.

“When they get to a critical mass is when you need to release them. If you let them go too many days after that, they’ll actually die from lack of food; so it’s a very time-sensitive thing.”