This morning the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) partnered with elected officials and the Otisco Lake Preservation Association (OLPA) to conduct a water chestnut pull on Otisco Lake, at Otisco County Park in the town of Otisco (Onondaga County). This is the tenth year DEC has pulled water chestnut on the lake since their discovery in 2006.

"DEC is fortunate to have an excellent partner in the Otisco Lake Preservation Association to assist us in our mission of eliminating water chestnut from Otisco Lake," said DEC Regional Director Kenneth Lynch. "In the first year of our efforts there were over two acres of water chestnuts on the lake. It took 35 boat loads and a great deal of time and effort by many individuals to remove these invasives. Last year, our ninth year into the program, there was less than 1/20 of an acre of water chestnuts. Only one boat load was needed to remove them. Clearly, we are making excellent progress and winning the battle to wipe out water chestnuts on Otisco Lake."

"Otisco Lake Preservation Association, since its beginnings, has looked to control any threat to our most precious local asset, the fresh water of Otisco Lake and the Finger Lakes Watershed," said Tim Creamer M.D., President of the Otisco Lake Preservation Association. "Control of the spread of invasive weeds is a continuing and coordinated effort by OLPA, the DEC and Cornell Cooperative Extension. The Annual Chestnut Pull and the containment of this invasive plant, is a good start to the active education of the region."

"There has been a tremendous amount of success reducing water chestnut plants at Otisco Lake," noted Michael Plochocki, the Onondaga County Legislator who represents the Otisco Lake area and the Legislature's Environmental Protection Committee Chair. "Pulling these invasive plants by hand, when they are first discovered, is key to not only reducing the spread of the plant, but in eliminating it from the lake. The DEC and the Otisco Lake Preservation Association have done just that, this being their tenth year of hand pulling water chestnuts on the lake. The reduction in plant material, from several acres to less than 1/20 of an acre, demonstrates the success this type of concentrated and continued effort can have on saving a lake's ecosystem."

This event, part of Invasive Species Awareness Week, is designed to raise awareness about invasive species and to encourage all New Yorkers to take action to protect lands and waters from invasive species that can be harmful to human health, animal habitat, agriculture and tourism.

The European water chestnut is an invasive aquatic plant released inadvertently into waters of the Northeast in the late 1800s. It is slowly but inexorably spreading throughout New York State, clogging waterways, lakes and ponds and altering aquatic habitats. In its native habitat in Europe, Asia and Africa, the plant is kept in check by native insect parasites. These insects are not present in North America and the plant, once released into the wild, is free to reproduce rapidly.

Water chestnut colonizes areas of freshwater lakes and ponds and slow-moving streams and rivers. The plant forms nearly impenetrable floating mats of vegetation. These mats create a hazard for boaters, swimmers and anglers. The density of the mats can severely limit light penetration into the water and reduce or eliminate the growth of native aquatic plants beneath the canopy. The reduced plant growth, combined with the decomposition of the water chestnut plants which die back each year, results in reduced levels of dissolved oxygen in the water that can lead to fish kills. The rapid and abundant growth of water chestnut can also out-compete both submerged and emergent native aquatic vegetation. Besides being so detrimental to other species, the water chestnut also offers little nutritional or habitat value to fish or waterfowl.

It's much easier and less expensive to control newly introduced populations of water chestnuts, as is the case in Otisco Lake. Early detection of the plant and a rapid control response are key to preventing high-impact infestations. Because water chestnut is an annual plant, effective control can be achieved if seed formation is prevented. Small populations can be controlled by hand pulling working from canoes or kayaks.

Water chestnut seeds can remain viable in lake or river sediments for up to 12 years; thus, it takes a prolonged, diligent effort to permanently remove them.

Persons interested in pulling water chestnuts from bodies of water in New York should contact their local DEC office, as the plant is a prohibited species and their possession and transport is illegal. The DEC will guide a town, non-profit or similar group in the correct disposal of the plants once they are pulled. It is extremely important to pull the plants before the seeds are fully formed in order to insure that the seeds aren't accidentally spread.

For additional information on water chestnut and other invasive plants see the DEC's web page.