Funding will soon be on its way to help curb the spread of a rapidly growing water weed that threatens to clog water delivery pumps and canals, plug local marinas and alter water quality in the Delta.
Legislation is now on Gov. Jerry Brown's desk that would help control the South American spongeplant. The bill, approved by the state Assembly last week, adds the plant to the Department of Boating and Waterways' list of invasive weeds in the Delta that it can treat.
The state now is allowed to treat for water hyacinth and Egeria densa using pellets of the nontoxic chemical fluridone.
The bill would take affect on Jan. 1.
"It's a common-sense approach to treating this invasive weed," said Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-San Ramon, who sponsored the bill. "The treatments of all three (weeds) is done with the same chemicals, so it makes sense from a strictly economic standpoint to treat them at the same time."
The Assembly bill does not set a dollar amount on how much will be spent each year to limit the spongeplant, but gives legal authority for money to be spent on attacking it.
"It allows the different state agencies to start collaborating on how to stop it, and actually spend available money to treat it," said Duane Schnabel, head of the state Department of Food and Agriculture Department's integrated pest control branch.
The department does some limited removal of the spongeplant using heavy equipment, he said.
Few have heard of the threat because the spongy plant has been found only recently in a few spots in California -- primarily the Delta. Experts have expressed alarm that the surface-floating plant will clog channels and be impenetrable, while its smaller size and prolific seed production could make it harder to contain.
"This weed has the potential to be significantly worse than water hyacinth," Schnabel said.
Two new small patches were found near Franks Tract in far East Contra Costa County last week, he said. It had appeared in the area two years ago, but went away.
Threats to the Delta from the plant include limiting recreational use and navigation of the waterways, and blocking canals, pumps and dams that provide water, making it more expensive for water to get to farms and cities. The spongy plant could also damage water quality when it decays and increase flood risk.
Further, just treating water hyacinth and Egeria densa creates an environment that allows the sponge plant more space to spread, Buchanan said.
"The idea is to treat it before it really takes hold and it is more cost-effective," said Susanna Schlendorf, Buchanan's chief of staff.
Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.