Going On The Offensive

STOW – Area residents and visitors are advised to be on the lookout for two invasive species on Chautauqua Lake.

Chautauqua County Executive Greg Edwards and Jeff Diers, Chautauqua county watershed coordinator, were at Hogan’s Hut in Stow on Monday to ask the public to be on the lookout for both the water chestnut and hydrilla.

Neither plant has been spotted in Chautauqua Lake this year. However, hydrilla was found in Tonawanda Creek in the summer of 2012, which is less than 80 miles from Chautauqua County. The water chestnut invaded Chautauqua Lake last summer.

“The discovery of hydrilla in Tonawanda Creek last summer was alarming, because it is considered by many experts to be one of the worst invasive water species in the world,” Diers said. “It has often been described as Eurasian milfoil on steroids, and it is vital that we prevent this invasive species from becoming established in our local lakes and waterways.”

Water chestnut is a rooted, aquatic annual plant that can reach up to 15 feet in length. It has a rosette of floating leaves, which are green, glossy and triangular, with toothed edges. Each rosette plant can produce up to 15 nutlets per season. Each individual nutlet has the potential to produce up to five individual plants, each of which can produce an additional 15 nutlets, for a total of 75 nutlets annually.

Last summer, the water chestnut was found in Chautauqua Lake when consultants for the county collected two specimens of the plant. Following mass searches by volunteers, an additional 17 water chestnut plants were discovered in the Bemus Creek area, or the mouth of the Chadakoin River.

Hydrilla is a submerged aquatic plant, which can grow rooted or with pieces drifting in the water. Its slender, branched stems can grow up to 25-feet long. Its leaves are blade-like and about 1/8 inch to 3/8 inch long, with distinct toothed edges. The midrib, or main vein, of the leaves also have more than one sharp tooth along it. There are generally four to eight leaves in a whorl.

Both invasive species can form dense floating mats, severely limiting light, which is a critical element of aquatic ecosystems. Once established, water chestnut and hydrilla can reduce oxygen levels and increase the potential of killing fish. They also compete with native vegetation, and can limit boating, fishing, swimming and other recreational activities. Unlike the water chestnut, which spreads via nutlets, hydrilla can spread from small fragments of the plant. Both invasive species can quickly spread to local ponds, lakes and streams by flowing from one body of water to another, clinging to boats and trailers, or by being transported by waterfowl, such as geese and blue heron.

“This is bigger than Chautauqua County as a government,” Edwards said. “We need the help of people in and around Chautauqua Lake, volunteers, those who are getting out there and enjoying the waterways, to know what water chestnut plants are, to know what hydrilla are, and what to do with that.”

Although handouts with information regarding the water chestnut and hydrilla will be available at locations throughout the county along the lake, including at Hogan’s Hut, Edwards recommended utilizing smartphones to make a positive identification of a suspect plant.

“People have their smartphones, they’ve got cameras, they’ve got video recorders,” he said. “If they’re out there on the waterway, they’re out there on their dock, they see what they believe to be a hydrilla or a water chestnut plant, clearly identify it where it is you are on the lake by a landmark, and then get a hold of Jeff Diers at the Chautauqua County Planning Office, or call my office at 753-4211. We will get the experts out there to make an absolute determination of what the plant is, and then professionally remove it. That’s the key, we have to stay ahead of this. We’re playing offense. We’re staying out in front of this, and that’s the only way we will have a realistic chance of addressing this invasive species.”

Individuals who see either plant are urged to not remove them, as experts need to analyze and properly remove them from the lake to prevent them from spreading. Diers can be reached at 661-8915 to report a sighting by leaving their name, phone number and the location of the sighting.