STOW - Despite being on a Tuesday at 8 a.m. when most people are either getting ready for or already at work, more than 100 people gathered at the Stow Ferry to help do their part in eradicating the water chestnut from Chautauqua Lake.
"I had no doubt that the people of Chautauqua County, and I mean the people who live here as well as the people who spend their summers here, were concerned about this issue," said County Executive Greg Edwards. "I had no doubt that people would show and I was not disappointed. There were about 100 people here, ready to go this morning, with many of them calling in advance to volunteer to cover areas of the lake they were familiar with. ... This is important work and we want to be as prepared as possible."
According to Edwards, he and Diers, county watershed coordinator, segmented the lake into 15 zones, and subsequently divided up volunteers, some with kayaks and canoes and some with motorboats, to search those locations.
Jeff Diers, Chautauqua Lake Watershed coordinator, explains to volunteers what the water chestnut looks like and what to do if one is found in the lake.
P-J photo by Remington Whitcomb
The zones were as followed: zone one, Mayville: Camp Mertz to Water Mark; zone two, Hartfield Bay: Water Mark to Point Chautauqua; zone three, Dewittville Bay: Point Chautauqua to Onyahsa; zone four, Midway Park: Viking Club to Sunset Bay; zone five, Bemus Bay: Long Point to Italian Fisherman; zone six, Bemus Point: Italian Fisherman to Shore Acres; zone seven, Shore Acres: Shore Acres to Englewood Development; zone eight, Dutch Hollow: Dutch Hollow Creed to Greenhurst; zone nine, Burtis Bay: Longview to Lakeview Community Park; zone 10, Shermans Bay: Shermans Bay to Vukote; zone 11, Ashville Bay: Ashville Bay to Cheney Point; zone 12, Hadley Bay: Cheney Point to Stow; zone 13, Whitney Bay: Woodlawn to Prendergast; zone 14, Prendergast: Prendergast to Institution; zone 15, Irwins Bay: Chautauqua Institution to Lighthouse Point.
Before volunteers were split up and sent to their specific zones, Diers spoke a little bit about the nature of the water chestnut and why it is so crucial to locate and eliminate every plant in the lake.
"This is an aquatic plant that ... has the potential to spread very quickly," said Diers. "As soon as you see this plant, it is very important that you pinpoint where exactly it is on the lake, then give me a call and I'll be there as quickly as possible. These types of plants grow usually in one to two feet of water all the way out to eight feet. Don't limit your search to right next to the shore or away from other plants we need to traverse these areas very carefully and deliberately. I've only found two rooted plants so far and their profile in the water (isn't very big), so if you're not looking closely, there is a chance you could miss it."
The water chestnut's submerged stem reaches 12 to15 feet in length, anchored into the mud by very fine roots. It has two types of leaves, finely divided feather-like submerged leaves borne along the length of the stem and undivided floating leaves borne in a rosette at the water's surface. The floating leaves have saw-tooth edges and are ovoid or triangular in shape, 23 cm long, on inflated petioles 59 cm long, which provide added buoyancy for the leafy portion. Four-petalled white flowers form in early summer and are insect-pollinated. The fruit is a nut with four 0.5 inches, barbed spines. Seeds can remain viable for up to 12 years, although most will germinate within the first two years.
According to Edwards, failure to eliminate this plant from the lake simply isn't an option.
"Today's work is essential," said Edwards. "We've already seen what happens when the early work isn't done. Look at Lake Champlain, who has now been battling the plant for 12 years, and their resources are spent in the realm of $500 thousand a year just in cutting the weeds. We can't let that happen in Chautauqua County we're not going to let that happen in Chautauqua County. The goal today is to identify where the weed is so we can begin eradication tomorrow. We will develop a plan with the DEC to get into the watershed itself and remove that plant. However, this could not begin without the volunteers who came out today, and their active participation in this cause is absolutely humbling. To see how much people are willing to commit to help the watershed I want to personally thank those people and I want to reassure them that their hard work will have a significant impact on Chautauqua County today."
Edwards has released a notice to the general public asking all those who spend time on or near the lake to keep an eye out for the invasive species. If the plant is spotted, it is asked that you call the watershed hotline at 363-4499, 7534499, or 661-7499 to report your sighting. Please be sure to leave your name, phone number and the location of the sighting. It is also asked that you please do not remove the plant if spotted. Experts need to analyze where it is and properly remove it.