The recent infestation of the highly invasive macroalgae starry stonewort (Nitellopsis obtusa) in and near Keuka Lake is being addressed by machine harvesting in the Keuka Lake Outlet and marsh at Penn Yan, and by hand harvesting in the mouth of Sugar Creek at Branchport by a group of volunteers from multiple organizations.

Organized by the Keuka Lake Association, that hand harvesting was done with help from Cornell Cooperative Extension of Yates County, Keuka College faculty and students, Finger Lakes Museum and Isaac Walton League members, and Boy Scout troops from Penn Yan and Prattsburgh.  

The Keuka Lake Association Watercraft Steward Chris Gilbert served as an on-site technical assistant. The Finger Lakes Museum donated the use of their kayaks and 4x4 tractor/loader.

The infestation along the banks of Sugar Creek was first discovered by Yates County Cornell Cooperative Extension educator Emily Staychock and Keuka Lake Association Watercraft Steward coordinator Laura Henderson in Sept. 2016. In 2017, Gilbert discovered that this infestation had spread into Keuka Lake where the Creek meets the Lake. A subcommittee of the Keuka Watershed Improvement Cooperative (KWIC) including Jerusalem Supervisor Pat Killen, then Yates County Legislator Mark Morris, Dennis Carlson, KLA Board Member Tim Cutler, Town of Wayne Supervisor and KWIC Chairman Steve Butchko, and Emily Staychock, explored possibilities for managing these infestations. 

After consulting a starry stonewort expert with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the committee decided to handle the smaller Sugar Creek site by hand-harvesting with garden rakes due to the difficult access with an aquatic weed harvester.

Staychock said, “The water level in these locations is shallow enough to allow for easy access wading (less than three feet), and hand removal generally has a lighter impact on the environment.” Once harvested, the algae matter is allowed to dry out on land and then composted.

In 2017, Staychock said monitors did not observe starry stonewort fragments escaping and floating down the Outlet or out into Keuka Lake. This is due to its high water content of starry stonewort (92 percent water), so the fragments are much more likely to sink than float to other areas.

This year’s cleanup, however, did include two small, new patches; one several yards downstream, and one on the opposite side of the creek just in the body of Keuka Lake. These were likely spread during periods of heavy stream flow or by motor boat traffic.