‘Check, Clean & Dry’ – Keeping Our Waterways Protected

April 14, 2011

April 16th marks opening day of fishing season and is also a welcome back sign to our state’s waterways. As we all begin revisiting and using Connecticut’s rivers, lakes and streams, we will need to take extra precautions to keep these waters clean.

To better highlight that need, I recently worked with the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Lower Farmington River & Salmon Brook Wild & Scenic Study to focus in on an invasive algae confirmed growing in the west branch of the Farmington River. Didymosphenia geminata, more commonly called ‘didymo,’ is a freshwater algae most frequently found in cold, shallow moving waterways with rocky bottoms – like that of the Farmington River. When didymo blooms, it can form thick mats of material that have the consistency of wet wool or home insulation. The mats, usually brown in color, grow along the bottoms of rivers and streams. Because of its slimy appearance, some even refer to didymo as ‘rock snot.’ The good news is that didymo does not present any hazards to people or pets. However, this aesthetically unappealing algae does have the potential to alter food webs and degrade habitats for many Connecticut trout rivers.

Didymo, first found in the northeastern United States in 2007 (Vermont), has spread to many nearby states including New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia. This algae most often gets into different waterways through human transfer. The microscopic cells can cling to fishing gear, boating equipment and clothing if not properly cleaned after use in an affected area. Didymo will also grow and may spread naturally through moving waters. It is important to note that there is nothing that can be done to eradicate didymo when in its natural habitat of river and stream beds.

To help prevent the spread of didymo there are a number of precautionary steps you can take. The DEP recommends that everyone ‘check, clean and dry’ all their equipment after use, especially in the Farmington River. Before leaving the water, it is important to check for and remove all obvious clumps of algae and plant material from fishing gear, waders, clothing, footwear, canoes, kayaks, tubes, sculls, power boats and anything else that has been in the water. If materials are found, leave them at the site or dispose of them in a trash receptacle. Proper cleaning is the next step. It is advised that you soak and scrub hard items with hot water (140° F) for at least one minute and do the same with absorbent items for at least 40 minutes. You may also use a very diluted bleach (2%) or detergent (5%) solution to clean with. If this method is used, DEP recommends that washing take place at your residence and away from the waterways. And last, DEP recommends drying all items for at least 48 hours to kill or reduce the spread of didymo.

Other small things fisherman can do to limit algae growth is to consider alternatives to felt soled waders. Internally, the DEP no longer allows staff to wear waders with a felt sole as they are highly absorbent and difficult to clean. Some states have even banned these types of waders all together in an effort to safeguard waterways. Fishermen are encouraged to use rubber soled waders and those who like waders with a better grip can try using boots such as Korkers.

While there are no state laws specifically dealing with didymo, there are current state laws pertaining to invasive plant life. Under state law, boaters must inspect their vessel or trailer for vegetation and then properly remove and dispose of any vegetation before transport. Failure to comply will result in a $95 fine per violation. In Connecticut a ‘vessel’ (sec. 15-127) includes every description of a water craft, other than a seaplane, used or capable of being used as a means of transportation on the water – meaning tubes to motorboats fall under the definition of a vessel and this law.

As we move through the summer months, keep a look out for informational signs posted along the Farmington River about how you can protect against didymo. We all want to keep our waterways pristine, so let’s do our part.

If you think you have spotted didymo and would like to report it, please contact the Department of Environmental Protection at 860-424-3474 or [email protected]. And for more information visit www.ct.gov/dep.