BEMUS POINT - Rooted water chestnut plants have been found in Chautauqua Lake and Lake Erie, County Executive Greg Edwards announced Friday.
The discoveries, two near Bemus Creek and an unknown amount in Dunkirk Harbor, confirm that the aquatic invasive species known to thrive in shallow waters has infested the county.
"This is the real deal," Edwards told reporters at the Bemus Point-Stow Ferry. "We now have confirmation that these plants are rooted in our lakes. ... It's no longer a guess that the plants are here."
Prior to the press conference the county executive said he had a discussion with the state Department of Environmental Conservation as well as state Sen. Cathy Young, R-Olean, and Assemblyman Andy Goodell, R-Chautauqua County, regarding the plants.
"I want to thank our area leaders and the DEC," Edwards said. "We now have the state's full attention."
Jeff Diers, county watershed coordinator, said a call placed by a kayaker to the county's emergency watershed hotline led him to Bemus Creek, where a rooted plant was discovered 50 feet off the shoreline. A second water chestnut plant was then found a short distance away.
Jeff Diers, county watershed coordinator, shows an uprooted water chestnut plant out of Chautauqua Lake to resident Bob Schmalz. The discovery in Bemus Creek marks the first rooted plant of the invasive species to be found in the county.
P-J photo by Eric Tichy
"We now know where these plants came from," Diers said, adding that others were found in Dunkirk Harbor, although he hadn't personally confirmed their presence.
Portions of a water chestnut plant, native to Europe, Asia, and Africa, were recently found near Ball Creek and Dutch Hollow Creek. The plants were found by the consulting firm EcoLogic LLC, which was conducting a dredging feasibility study in the lake.
The DEC and Army Corps of Engineers have been contacted.
The plant can reach up to 15 feet in length, and without eradication can spread its seeds - overtaking aquatic vegetation. Each plant, Diers said, can produce up to 15 nuts per season, and within each nut can be hundreds of seeds.
Edwards said a mass-search for water chestnuts will take place at 8 a.m., Tuesday at the Bemus Point-Stow Ferry landing. He said all available residents are asked to come out and help search "known areas" for the invasive species.
"We need all hands on deck," Edwards said. "We need to collect that information so the DEC can come in and move forward."
If water chestnuts are spotted residents are asked to call the county's hotline numbers: North county: 363-4499; Mayville: 753-4499; or south county: 661-7499.