State program to fight invasive aquatic species
Some summers the Eurasian watermilfoil was so bad at Candlewood Lake that boats struggled to get through the invasive weeds and the plants reached several feet to the surface.
Eurasian watermilfoil has grown so much around residents’ docks around Lake Lillinonah, it has raised concerns that swimmers could get entangled and possibly drown at bodies of water around the state.
Property owners worry the inability to use the lakes could hurt their property values.
Towns and lake authorities will get some much needed help in tackling the issue with the passage of a program that is expected to generate about $500,000 annually to fight invasive species. A one-time $50,000 cost would establish the program.
“This is one way to not only protect our waters but maintain the environmental balance and protect
property values,” said Phyllis Schaer, chairwoman for the Candlewood Lake Authority.
Under the program, boat owners would purchase a boat stamp — $5 for Connecticut residents and $25 for those out of state. The bill passed by a wide margin in the state House and Senate earlier this month and now heads to Gov. Ned Lamont to sign. It would go into effect Jan. 1.
Schaer said the money will be great for lake maintenance, programs to remove invasive species and educational initiatives.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity,” she said. “There’s definitely a shortage of funds and grant money.”
The lake authority has been trying to start a boat decontamination program to keep boats from bringing invasive species into Candlewood. It has the unit, but doesn’t have the money to hire the staff to run the program. Schaer said this fund could help and they could finally make it operational.
Larry Marsicano, a lake consultant with Aquatic Ecosystem Research and former executive director of the Candlewood Lake Authority, said funding was the biggest need identified by the members of the Connecticut Federation of Lakes and local politicians last year, prompting the bill.
“It’s not unusual for (towns and lake authorities) to be spending tens of thousands of dollars — and if you’re doing that annually, that adds up pretty quickly,” he said.
This isn’t the first time funding has been an issue, Marsicano said. The state used to have a Connecticut Lakes program but it didn’t get money and so fell by the wayside.
A few years ago, then-state Sen. Clark Chapin, R-New Milford, was able to get some money in the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s budget for lakes, but that was only for a couple of years.
That money helped the Candlewood Lake Authority start the sterile grass carp program in 2015 to eat the milfoil, which is showing some success.
Marsicano worked alongside several area legislators, environmental groups and Bill Hyatt, the former natural resources bureau chief at DEEP, to help create the proposal. Marsicano said state Reps. Steve Harding, David Arconti, Ken Gucker and state Sens. Craig Miner and Julie Kushner, were all influential in getting it passed.
“We had great support from them,” Marsicano said, adding lake members reached out to their legislators for support and local leaders helped as well.
New Fairfield Selectman Khristine Hall testified in support of the bill.
“If the quality of the lake were to be degraded, it could have a negative impact on the financial viability of the town as well as on our commercial enterprises,” she said in a statement. “Funding is needed to study the lake, define and measure the extent of the threat, define solutions, and help fund approaches to minimize the threat.”
One of those threats is hydrilla, which grows rapidly. Zebra mussels along the Housatonic River are also posing a risk.
“People say hydrilla makes milfoil look tame,” Marsicano said.
Marsicano said it didn’t use to have a stronghold in Connecticut but is now rampant in the Connecticut River, which is a popular waterway and so the fund comes at an even more important time as groups try to keep it in check.
“People need help,” he said. “This is an actual mechanism that will keep resources available.”
Greg Bugbee, an associate scientist with the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, lifts a handful of Eurasian watermilfoil from Squantz Pond in New Fairfield in 2016.
Grass carp are taken off a truck to go into Candlewood Lake at the New Fairfield Town Park in 2017. About 4,000 sterile grass carp were trucked in from Arkansas to eat the Eurasian watermilfoil.