Local water chestnut invasion a beatable threat

Water chestnut is creeping into Warren County, but it can be beaten. This exotic invader was intentionally brought into this country as an ornamental aquatic plant by one of America’s most honored educational institutions in the 19th Century. More recently it has become a fast spreading pest that threatens to crowd out many native aquatic plants and animals. But unlike some of the other invasive plants that are crowding out native plants, water chestnut can be controlled and maybe even beaten.

The first place water chestnut was discovered locally was at the Audubon Sanctuary, just north of the New York border in the valley of Conewango Creek. It is uncertain how it got there, but in just a short while it had virtually taken over a major pond at the sanctuary. That 50-acre pond had to be drained.

One positive effect the discovery of water chestnut at the sanctuary was to raise the awareness of the Conewango Creek Watershed Association. Before it could spread to a great extent downstream into Pennsylvania, it was discovered at a pond and at Akeley Swamp and dealt with promptly.

Last year 14 water chestnut plants were found and pulled at Akeley Swamp. This was the first confirmed occurrence of water chestnut in western Pennsylvania. This year an additional 25 were found and removed during two searches.

“So we think we have our hands around it at Akeley,” said Will Novitske.

Novitske was thrust to the front of the local war on water chestnut when he discovered it in his pond.

Since those first few discoveries of water chestnut it has been found elsewhere in the area. A kayaker found water chestnut on the back channel of Mead Island. The first effort was on July 20 to remove that colony.

“In about 4 hours we were out, we found a canoe load,” said Ron Keeney over a lunch meeting this past Monday that included Novitske and Jean Gomory, from the Warren County Conservation District. “Yesterday in about 2-1/2 hours we got the remaining 10 percent.”

Novitske and Keeney are members of the Conewango Creek Watershed Association. Their involvement has been key since they have strong scientific backgrounds.

“Right now we have three sightings on ponds,” Novitske said, “Blueberry Hill (Golf Club), Cable Hollow (Golf Club) and a farm pond near Akeley.

“I had visited them (Cable Hollow Golf Club) this spring and gave them a photo.”

Later Keeney talked with an employee and again showed a water chestnut photo. Just last Monday, the morning before we met for lunch, it was confirmed that Cable Hollow had water chestnut. Keeney was told it would be removed by last Wednesday.

As long as there is water chestnut in the area, though, pond owners will have to be vigilant.

“As long as they have geese they’re going to have to keep watching,” Novitske said

Water chestnut nutlets can stick to the feathers of geese, as well as other waterfowl. This is a major means for the spread of this invasive plant. Nutlets contain the seeds.

“The goal is to keep the plants from going to seed,” Gomory said.

Water chestnut nutlets can persist while buried in muck for about a dozen years. Eradicating it is not generally a quick fix. Yet it is easier to beat than many other invasive plants.

“This is definitely a marathon to keep this under control, but it is controllable,” Gomory said.

Novitske said most pond owners in the Conewango Creek valley, in Pennsylvania, have been contacted and alerted about water chestnut. All have been very positive about doing their part to control the plant, which can virtually destroy ponds.

“We want them to report it. We want to track where this is going,” Novitske said.

“If anybody thinks they have it, all they have to do is send us a picture.”

Suspected water chestnut plants should be reported to either the Conewango Creek Watershed Association, phone 726-1441 or e-mail info@conewangocreek.org, or to Jamestown Audubon Center & Sanctuary, phone (716) 569-2345 or e-mail waterchestnut@jamestownaudubon.org.

“It’s a low-maintenance kind of project. You don’t need a lot of money,” Gomory said.

Volunteers are needed both to report on and to remove water chestnut. People can volunteer by phoning the Warren County Conservation District, 726-1441.