State Money to Combat Lake Invasives [News Times]

May 19, 2014

News Times

If you go hunting for zebra mussels in Lake Lillinonah or Lake Zoar this summer, just turn over a rock or look on a dock piling. The small, striped bivalves — invaders from the Old World — are rapidly settling in.

“We’re infested,” said Scott Conant, a member of Friends of the Lake, an advocacy group for Lillinonah.

“Our studies are showing they’re growing exponentially,” said Brian Wood, land manager for FirstLight Power Resources, the utility that owns the Zoar, Lillilnonah and Candlewood lakes.

Candlewood — so far free of zebra mussels — fights its own annual battle with another invasive plant, the Eurasian watermilfoil. In good years the weed dies back, but in others the lake is plagued with its thick green mats.

And in nearby Lake Waramaug in Washington and Kent, the primary invasive is another plant, curley-leaf pondweed.

Throw in common invasive plants like phragmites and purple loosetrife, and about 60 percent of state lakes have some problem with at least one invasive species.

“It’s a growing problem,” said Dennis Schain, spokesman for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

But now there’s money in the state budget to help stem the tide.

Owing to the work of State Sen. Clark Chapin, R-New Milford, the state has allocated $200,000 in the budget passed last week to fight invasive aquatic species.

“We’re very, very pleased,” said Phyllis Schaer, chairman of the Candlewood Lake authority and head of its Zebra Mussel Task Force “It’s the culmination of a long process.”
Greg Bollard of Friends of the Lake said the news is welcome, because some of that state money could support work that’s already begun.

“We need money to help us continue,” Bollard said.

Work on getting the funding began in 2013 when Larry Marsicano, executive director of the Candlewood Lake Authority, and Tom McGowan, executive director of the Lake Waramaug Task Force, met with Chapin to discuss the threats faced by state lakes.

Chapin, as a member of the legislature’s Appropriations Committee, at first proposed spending $1 million. Half that money would have been used to hire 15 part-time employees to work at state boat launches, educating boaters about the need to clean their boats thoroughly to prevent transfer of invasives from one lake to another. Such efforts now depend on volunteers.

Chapin’s original request was cut to $500,000, then to $200,000, with the earmark for staffing dropped entirely.

“With the state tax revenue projections dropping so dramatically, it’s understandable,” Chapin said,

But the $200,000 is still welcome. Schain said the DEEP staff is studying how it might use the money.

The enabling legislation requires that at least 30 percent of the total be given to towns in grants to help them deal with aquatic invasives. The department also can allocate some of the money for rapid response — hurrying state staff to a site to remove a new species before it get established.

And while it wasn’t as much money as he hoped for , Chapin was still happy that some money got set aside for the work.

“I’m willing to take half a loaf,” he said.