Protecting Keuka Lake from invasives

John Christensen
Jerusalem Supervisor Patrick Killen, right, was joined by volunteers from Keuka Lake Association, Finger Lakes Museum, Keuka College, and Penn Yan Academy Oct. 28 to hand harvest starry stonewort from Sugar Creek.

 The recent infestation of the highly invasive macroalgae starry stonewort (Nitellopsis obtusa) in and near Keuka Lake felt its second blow in the two-part campaign to control its growth. The first was by machine harvesting in late August in the Keuka Lake Outlet and marsh at Penn Yan. The latest was by a group of volunteers from multiple organizations who hand-harvested in the mouth of Sugar Creek at Branchport.

Volunteer Keuka College and Penn Yan students used borrowed rakes and bins to do the harvesting. The Keuka Lake Association provided the paid time of Watercraft Steward Chris Gilbert to serve as an on-site technical assistant. The Finger Lakes Museum donated the use of their kayaks and 4x4 tractor/loader and driver, with FLM’s Pat Atkinson as coordinator and assistant.

The infestation along the banks of Sugar Creek was discovered by Yates County Cornell Cooperative Extension educator Emily Staychock and Keuka Lake Association Watercraft Steward coordinator Laura Henderson in September 2016. In July this year, KLA Watercraft Steward Chris 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, 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 says, “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.

Staychock says they have monitored downstream of the project area and did not observe starry stonewort fragments escaping and floating down the Outlet or out into Keuka Lake. According to the Minnesota DNR experts, 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.