Sullivan County Democrat
Callicoon, New York
January 22, 2010 Issue
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Jeanne Sager | Democrat

THE CHEMICAL USED to treat the water chestnuts is beginning to take hold as you can see the swath of brown chestnuts which have died off. The green patches are chestnuts that are yet to die.

Battling the aquatic invader

By Jeanne Sager
SWAN LAKE – The plant sucking the life out of Swan Lake may finally have met its match.
A chemical that’s toxic to broadleaf plants was applied on more than 100 acres of the lake on Sunday, in accordance with a permit from the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).
Two days later, residents were already reporting the water chestnuts that have left a green coating on much of their water are beginning to turn brown. They’re dying, and residents couldn’t be happier.
Paul Edelstein built his home on the lake seven years ago, and the Manhattan attorney said the water chestnuts literally became unbearable two years ago, when they could not longer launch a boat onto the water from their waterfront property.
“What an incredible weed it is,” Edelstein said. “It’s too bad we can’t find a way to harness it for some use.”
The chestnuts have been called a “plant invader” by the National Park Service, and they’re illegal in a number of states nationwide. But somehow they came to Swan Lake – many residents believe the massive flooding several years ago was to blame – and the invasive species has flourished ever since.
Its spread from the so-called “back lake” in the series of lakes that make up the Swan Lake water system has been watched with increasing worry by the residents. They’ve tried everything. Volunteers from the Swan Lake Renaissance and the Swan Lake Fire Department took to the water and tried harvesting the plant by hand.
They looked into the DEC permitting process for spraying. And they turned to the owner of the lake itself, AJM Associates owner Tony Murolo for help.
In the end, it came down to when they could get a permit from the DEC and how generous people were in opening their pocketbooks to fund the costly process. Murolo has been told it could take up to three years of applying the DEC-approved DMA 4 IVM (active ingredient 2,4-D), and estimates put that whole process at $50,000.
Murolo kicked in a large sum to help cover the first year’s spraying, while the fire department and Renaissance are working to raise funds throughout the summer. With Edelstein’s help, they’ve ensured people are able to write the donations off their taxes – they’re made straight to the non-profit Renaissance group, earmarked for the water chestnut project.
Town residents kicked their activism into high gear in 2007, but the window of time for harvesting or spraying the chemical is limited. And obtaining a DEC permit was no easy process. The chemicals have been changed several time, and the process had to be thoroughly reviewed by a number of agencies to ensure there was minimal environmental impact.
According to DEC spokeswoman Wendy Rosenbach, “2,4-D is a poison, it kills broadleaf plants. Used correctly it should have little impact to fish and wildlife.
“It will kill other plants,” she warned.
Humans were advised to stay out of the lake on Sunday while spraying was going on, but even the affect on people is minimal.
Edelstein said residents have really weighed out what the affects of the plant would have been versus the affect of the chemicals anyway.
Letting the chestnuts continue to flourish would mean deoxygenation of the lake. It would have killed the fish, the plant life and likely driven away the wildlife that feeds on those fish and plants.
“This chemical solution, along with education and awareness, really is the only thing to be done,” Edelstein said.
Murolo agreed. He explained approval has only been granted for 100 of his 352 acres, and the process isn’t over.
“You’ve got to solve the upper lake issue, because obviously those seeds will keep coming down,” Murolo noted. “Hopefully, we’ll beat some of them back and see what happens.”
The plan is to raise enough money this summer that AJM can reapply for the DEC permit, and hopefully the DEC will allow for spraying of the back lake as well.
A third year is expected in the process – again dependent on funds raised and the permitting process of the DEC.
But with town residents – especially the fire department and Renaissance – so heavily invested, Edelstein said the other key is in spreading that awareness level.
“In the end, there will still be some of this, maybe 5 percent of what there was,” he noted. “But if that 5 percent isn’t managed, it will be 15 percent by the next year and so on.
“I’m sure every homeowner on the lake will say the same thing – it’s absolutely horrifying to see how fast it can spread.”

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