Herbicide Treatment Working in Massachusetts Waters

Published December 1, 2005

Framingham officials have treated the town’s ponds with herbicides for more than a decade. Throughout that time, there have been few complaints, Framingham conservation agent Michele Grzenda told the September 1 Boston Globe.

Similarly, Westborough officials have treated Lake Chauncy for 20 years, after mechanical raking failed to control invasive weeds.

“If we’re going to keep that swim area open,” Westborough recreation director Frank DeSiata told the Globe, “the only way we can do it is by applying the chemical. We feel very confident that there’s been no negative effect.”

Marlborough conservation officer Priscilla Ryder admits she was initially wary of applying aquatic herbicides to local ponds, but herbicides have worked after alternative plans failed. Explaining her willingness to finally switch to herbicides, “You have to evaluate what the benefits and drawbacks are,” Ryder told the Globe.

As a result of such success stories, the state Department of Environmental Protection recently approved 77 permits for application of aquatic herbicides to battle invasive milfoil.

Activists Still Attack

Despite success stories in Massachusetts and across the country, some environmental activists still oppose the use of herbicides to attack invasive weeds. The debate is most contentious in Wellesley and Natick, where activists led by the Toxics Action Center of Boston had their children parade in front of the media with anti-herbicide placards.

Natick Conservation Commission agent Bob Bois told the MetroWest Daily News for an August 18 story that milfoil has already infested 120 acres of Lake Cochituate and will continue to spread until it is treated.

By delaying aquatic herbicide treatment, activists are merely making the problem worse, Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation spokesperson Joe O’Keefe told the Daily News.

“If we had been allowed to do what we sought to do last year, the problem would have been solved,” O’Keefe told the Daily News. “Now we have an even larger scale” problem.

“It’s gotten so out of control in the past couple of years because of the delay that it’s just tragic to see it,” Natick resident Eileen Samels told the Daily News. “My kids won’t swim in the shallow end because their feet get caught in the weeds. It’s dangerous.”

Makes Manual Treatment Possible

An additional benefit of herbicide treatment, according to Washington state Department of General Administration planner Nathaniel Jones, who successfully fought milfoil in Olympia, Washington’s Capitol Lake, is that herbicide treatment is so successful that any minor outbreaks in the future can be addressed by non-chemical means.

One good herbicide treatment, which had no negative side effects in Capitol Lake, made it possible to address subsequent milfoil outbreaks less aggressively.

“Manual removal of milfoil is expensive,” Jones explained, “but the community still prefers manual removal when feasible. Our one herbicide treatment has made it possible to manually treat the lake in the future.”

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.