Dresden removing water chestnuts

B y Derek Liebig

It’s time for a little weed pulling in the waters around Dresden.

The town began its annual removal of the invasive species water chestnut on Lake Champlain earlier this week.

Town Supervisor Bob Banks said the water chestnuts have just started to become noticeable in the last few weeks meaning it’s the optimal time to begin removing them from the lake.

The boats used to remove the plant arrived last week and crews began to hit the water this week.

“We’re going to start in the bay and then we’ll go under the bridge and start working. It’s basically the same as last year,” Banks said.

The funding for the mechanical removal of the chestnuts is provided through a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation grant and the Canal Corp., who has a vested interest in the plants removal due to the volume of boats traveling through the lake on their way to and from the Champlain canal.

The process of harvesting the water chestnuts involves two boats, one that pulls the weeds from Lake Champlain and another that transports the collected weeds to shore, where they are loaded onto a Dresden town truck and taken away to be disposed of.

Banks said they have two sites where they dump the weeds after they’ve been removed from the water and the plants take about two to completely break down.

2011 marks the sixth year that the town has worked with the state in trying to rid the southern portion of Lake Champlain of the water chestnuts, an invasive plant species that was first discovered and documented to be in the lake in the 1940s.

Water chestnuts threaten waterways by displacing other aquatic plant species and forming dense “mats,” which change habitat and interfere with recreational activities, with the most extensive infestations found in southern Lake Champlain.

Banks said the mats can become so thick that they became wrapped up in the props of boats, preventing them from passing through the weeds.

“They choke out everything. You can’t get a boat through them,” Banks said.

The plant was nearly eradicated during the 1970’s, but a lack of consistent control allowed it to expand its range.

The plant grows from distinctive spiny seeds which are the key to controlling the spread of the plant. If they are removed from the lake before the seeds are dropped, they can be effectively controlled and eliminated.  

Originally the harvesting project was launched as a two year test program between the state and the town of Dresden, but has continued to be held every summer.  

Joining in the effort, The Vermont Department of Conservation has been removing the plants on Lake Champlain since the 1980’s and Banks said the crews try to work together when they can.

The Nature Conservancy also helps organize volunteers to hand pull the plant in areas where the weed harvesters can access.

Their efforts seem to be working as the extent f the plants range has begun to slow.

“We really seem to be making progress. The re-growth this year is down from what it was,” Banks said.

 “Every year we do more acreage. The change has been very noticeable.”

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