Bad News, Good News: Water Chestnut Found on Lake H

Just one day into a large-scale effort to search Lake Hopatcong for any sign of the water chestnut, a volunteer found the invasive species in Landing Channel—confirming that the plant has made its way into the lake environment, but also that the search efforts are worthwhile. Water Chestnut Found in Landing“The bad news is that on day one of our lake-wide survey, the water chestnut has been spotted and verified in one location already,” said Tim Clancy of the Knee Deep Club, who has spearheaded the search effort. “The good news is that all of our efforts are paying off, and the fact that we have discovered this one infested area shows that our plan is working. … Had we not worked together in this extraordinary effort, this particular colony would have gone unnoticed and by net year would have grown into acres of plants.” Volunteer Stacey Sellaro spotted the plants among heavy weed growth, flagging them with bright pink streamers and reporting them back to Clancy, as per the proper “Water Scout” procedure.  Her zone of coverage in Landing Channel started at Clambake Point, extending to Lake’s End Marina and up to the Shore Hills Beach.  Because of its nature as a shallow, still part of the lake, it was an area of particular concern, along with Crescent Cove and the canals at the north end of the lake. Specifically, this group of water chestnuts was found along the western shoreline of the lake, across from Lake’s End Marina.  All of the 50 or so plants that were found were removed from the water, and the area has been marked on shore so that it can continue to receive follow-up inspections in the coming weeks and months. “By mid-July we will be going back in great numbers to pull any additional plants,” Clancy said. “I fully expect that we will find more at that point because this was all early-season emerging growth that was sparsely scattered along a few hundred feet of shoreline.  This was not one individual seed that had just been dropped, this was spread along the shore for such a distance that it is absolutely the result of Lake Hopatcong plants from last year that went to seed.” Water Chestnut Found in LandingHow the plants arrived in Landing is a mystery.  They could have been transported by a boat that had been in an infected body of water before being launched in Lake Hopatcong.  Or they could have been transported by water fowl, such as Canada geese, because the seeds have barbs that stick to feathers.  That possibility is made more likely by the fact that Lake Musconetcong, which is less than two miles from Landing Channel, is heavily infested with water chestnuts. The reason the plant is of such concern is because of its ability to take over an entire water ecosystem, growing from a persistent seed (particularly in shallow, stagnant areas) as a stringy plant with large rosettes of two-inch arrowhead-shaped leaves.  The rosettes can quickly multiply, and before long the water chestnut can take over the surface of an area, clogging up channels for recreation and choking out other aquatic life.  At a Knee Deep Club meeting last month, Pat Rector of the Morris County Cooperative Extension said that the fight to keep water chestnuts out of Lake Hopatcong is one that residents can win. “The best thing is early detection,” she said. “If you find it and get rid of it early, you win.” Water Chestnut Found in LandingClancy and others are hoping that Saturday’s discovery is a sign that the Water Scouts are gaining the upper hand in the battle by their proactive efforts to spot the water chestnut. “Some of these early-season rosettes [found by Sellaro] were only 4 to 5 inches in diameter,” Clancy said. “The fact that she could spot these amongst all the heavy milfoil, water lily, and floating algae and under some shoreline brush is just fantastic.” And that further emphasizes the other major part of the Water Scout plan: to educate the public about what the water chestnut looks like, so all residents will be as vigilant in reporting any sightings as the Water Scouts are trained to be. For now, Water Scouts like Sellaro are taking the first step in searching the Lake Hopatcong waters before the water chestnuts go to seed. Clancy and the Knee Deep Club are then making sure whatever plants are found are removed properly, minimizing the chance that any seeds or plants are left behind. “We just dodged a big bullet today,” Clancy said. “Those 50 or so plants I pulled today, if left unchecked until September, would have dropped over 10,000 more seeds. We got it just before it was going to explode.” So, despite the unfortunate discovery of this invasive species, Clancy is optimistic. “We really did something important today,” he said. “Thanks go out to everybody who has volunteered; this is a great effort by the lake community.” If you discover what you think might be a water chestnut plant, take note of its location (and a photo, if possible) and report it to Clancy at 908-415-2895 or email, or report it to the Lake Hopatcong Commission office at 973-601-1070.

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