Water chestnuts spreading in local waters

A thick, unsightly and destructive cover of vegetation, known as water chestnuts, is rapidly turning the Oswego River Basin into a swamp.

Covering hundreds of acres of shoreline, the water chestnuts are depreciating waterfront property values, destroying the fish habitat and becoming a hazard to navigation.

Initially, the infestation was just along the shoreline, but now has spread well into the center on vast stretches of local rivers. Very little seemingly can be done about it as it grows faster than it can be pulled out or reduced by chemical means.

Cornell University researchers are reportedly close to finding a beetle that would feed on it, but further research has been halted due to lack of funds. The situation has gotten to the point that it is also nuisance at the locks where the plants foul water intake, according to canal officials. New York State Canal Corporation workers have spent much time breaking masses of vines and vegetation loose from water intakes at some of the locks. For example, when Baldwinsville's Lock 24 is opened, clusters of water chestnuts float into the chamber behind the boats.

It is estimated that the water chestnut infestation, just on the Oswego River alone, covers several hundred acres. It is especially apparent in the vicinity of Ox Creek between Phoenix and Fulton. Many expensive homes have been built in recent years along the river, but waterfront property owners can no longer use their docks, particularly in the town of Granby.

"It's a real serious problem," said John DeHollander, manager of the Oswego County Soil and Water Conservation District.

DeHollander said waterfront owners are fed up with high assessments because they have no water access. And the problem is getting worse as the plant spreads. "Floaters," or clusters of water chestnut plants, break loose, particularly after a heavy rain, go down stream and lodge in coves and bays where they take root and spread rapidly. Since the chestnut plant spreads rapidly during warm weather, it is difficult to successfully keep ahead of it, making mitigating programs such as harvesting and chemical treatment an almost hopeless cause. Long-range control efforts could cost millions of dollars, DeHollander said.

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