Aquatic Herbicide Success Inspires Rhode Islanders to Protect More Lakes

Published October 9, 2008

Inspired by the success of aquatic herbicides in eliminating invasive milfoil from the Smith and Sayles Reservoir, Glocester, Rhode Island residents are forming a new environmental group with the goal of ridding other area lakes of milfoil.

Weeds Destroyed Local Jewel

The 173-acre reservoir had regressed from a beautiful local jewel conducive to swimming, boating, and fishing into an unusable eyesore choked with aggressive foreign plants. Unable to navigate boats through the lake and fearful that children would get tangled up in long milfoil tendrils, local residents had completely given up on any enjoyment of the lake by the summer of 2007.

“All you could see was a grassy field,” a July 19 story in the Providence Journal quoted local resident Raymond Theriault as saying. “The lake was useless.”

Local Citizens Fight Back

A group of local residents, however, decided not to give up so easily.

After researching milfoil and learning from other communities that successfully fought the invasive plant, they raised funds to treat the lake with aquatic herbicides. Within a month after a June 2008 herbicide treatment, the lake was free of milfoil and a vital community resource once again.

Now, those same residents have formed Save the Lakes, an environmental group dedicated to helping other communities protect their lakes.

Referring to other area lakes in the early stages of infestation, “If these lakes are left untreated, they’ll be filled in [with invasive plants] within 15 years,” Save the Lakes member Judy Colaluca told the Journal.

Greens, Pro-Herbicide Groups

Save the Lakes spokesperson Noelle Damon said fighting milfoil is part of what the group sees as a growing environmental mission.

“What we have been trying to do is bring as much information as possible to the community about responsible development,” said Damon. “In the process we have become affiliated with the Sierra Club and a number of local environmental groups.”

“Getting the Sierra Club on board with groups utilizing safe, effective herbicides to treat lakes infested with milfoil is a noteworthy development,” said Sterling Burnett, a senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis. “Let’s hope they allow Save the Lakes to continue following such a wise strategy.”

Environmental Successes

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) is well aware of the milfoil problem within the state. According to DEM research, nearly 80 percent of the state’s freshwater bodies have contracted either milfoil or another invasive plant species.

State officials will be keeping a close eye on the Smith and Sayles Reservoir to make sure there are no negative environmental consequences from the recent aquatic herbicide treatment. Any such problems seem highly unlikely, analysts say, as aquatic herbicides have an untarnished record in communities from Washington state to New England, eliminating invasive plant species in an environmentally friendly manner.

“Community after community has discovered to their benefit that aquatic herbicides are effective and environmentally friendly ways to restore and protect valuable lakes and streams from the damaging effects of invasive milfoil,” said Jim Skillen, director of science and regulatory affairs for Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment.

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is a senior fellow of The Heartland Institute and managing editor of Environment & Climate News.