New England Communities Fighting Back Against Aquatic Weeds

Published January 1, 2006

With invasive weeds such as Eurasian milfoil choking an increasing number of freshwater lakes and ponds, communities in southern New England have decided to fight back.

Employing the newest advances in aquatic herbicides, communities are successfully restoring their water resources without harming non-targeted plants or polluting the environment.

Connecticut Lake Needs Attention

Bantam Lake, located in the Appalachian foothills of northwestern Connecticut, is the state’s largest natural lake. The towns of Litchfield and Morris border the lake, which covers 916 acres. Although the hilly, forested region is scenic enough to bring tourists from throughout the northeastern United States, Bantam Lake is threatening to become a blight on the land.

“We’ve got a problem. We need to clean up the weeds and the invasive species. We have this beautiful lake our residents get to enjoy, and we should do the best we can to keep it that way,” Litchfield First Selectman Leo Paul told the November 25 Litchfield Enquirer.

State Funding Sought

Morris officials agree. First Selectman Phil Birkett has received a state permit to treat the lake with herbicides. But the milfoil has several years’ head start, and Birkett must find funding to pay for the expected $50,000 per year it will cost to treat the lake until the weed is brought under control.

“It could be less, but for the foreseeable future, because of the shape the lake is in, we have to be aggressive in the treatment. Then, as time goes on, perhaps we will reassess the situation,” Birkett told the Enquirer. “The invasive plant species have had a field day here. They’ve just had every opportunity to grow and that’s why it’s so important that we stop this growth and clean up the lake.”

The two towns expect to share the costs of the chemical treatment with a local conservation center that owns a substantial portion of Bantam Lake shoreline. Working out the details of who pays how much of the treatment, however, could be problematic. Litchfield and Morris are trying to persuade the state government to contribute to treatment costs.

Dredging Effort Failed

A few years ago the state paid for a dredging project designed to eliminate, or at least contain, the milfoil. But the weeds are back stronger than ever, and local officials realize herbicide treatment is the only effective option.

“We know that aquatic herbicides are safe and have been used effectively for over 30 years to remove invasive weeds,” said Allen James, president of Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment, a national not-for-profit trade association representing producers and suppliers of specialty pesticides and fertilizers. “Successful treatments are happening across the nation, in every state. However, communities that put off action until the invasive weeds are out of control pay a far heavier financial price than those that have the foresight to take action early.”

Success in Rhode Island

In the neighboring state of Rhode Island, the Lake Mishnock Preservation Association (LMPA) is further along the path of restoring its watershed. According to the LMPA, aquatic herbicides have delivered everything the association was hoping for.

Dan Albro, president of the LMPA, told the November 7 Kent County Times a recent milfoil infestation had rendered Lake Mishnock unsightly and unusable. Referring to the effect a milfoil invasion can have on an otherwise-healthy lake, Albro told the newspaper, “Even swimming isn’t fun in it.”

Responding to the Lake Mishnock crisis, local citizens formed the LMPA a little more than a year ago and began investigating ways to treat the lake.

“This is a grassroots organization that rolled up its sleeves and really did its homework,” said state Rep. Raymond Sullivan (D). “The members researched the issue, consulted with university officials, and did everything possible to educate themselves about their options.”

The LMPA decided to apply aquatic herbicides to eradicate the milfoil, and the results have been spectacular.

“The milfoil infestation had completely overrun the lake. It had gotten to the point where people could not boat or swim. It had completely choked the lake. If the community hadn’t come together and taken action against the milfoil, it’s scary to think what might have happened,” Sullivan explained.

“You should see the lake now,” Sullivan continued. “The difference is like night and day. Lake Mishnock is central to the community’s way of life, and the lake is absolutely beautiful again. They deserve all the credit. It’s a great story.”

“The neighborhood has really come together a lot around the lake,” agreed Albro.

Environmentally Sound

Importantly, reported Sullivan, aquatic herbicides have been applied in an environmentally responsible manner. “All treatments must be approved by our Department of Environmental Management. We have taken all appropriate steps to ensure application in an environmentally safe manner.”

Impressed by the LMPA’s diligence and success, the town of West Greenwich, Rhode Island recently provided LMPA with a $2,500 grant, and Sullivan secured a state legislative grant for $9,000. Those funds are expected to help the LMPA keep milfoil in check during the coming years as well.

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