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Invasive water chestnuts threaten north country waterways

Published: Jul. 27, 2021 at 4:51 PM EDT
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OSWEGATCHIE RIVER, New York (WWNY) - Yet another invasive species enters north country waterways. Water chestnuts threaten to choke the Oswesgatchie River near Heuvelton.

John Compo knows the bay off the Oswegatchie River well. He fished bullhead here as a boy. But when he came last year, he saw something new.

“I looked out here and seen all this green plume and was like that just didn’t look normal,” said Compo, Black Lake Association vice president.

So he looked closer. He found this plant. It forms a thick mat across the bay and out into the river. He studied up on it.

“It’s a bad nightmare turned into a worse nightmare. It’s like something you’re never going to wake up from,” he said.

The nightmare is called water chestnut. It’s an invasive species.

“It out competes the native plant species and it can form really dense mats that are extremely difficult even for us to navigate,” said Lauren Eggleston, Save the River program manager.

Those mats tangle boat motors and can even stop kayaks. They blot out all light below. As if that’s not enough, the “chestnuts” they produce have one more interesting feature: they’re sharp.

Some dogs have stepped on them and they’ve come out with bloody feet.

And it gets worse. The water chestnuts have been found near the dam in Heuvelton, and 3 miles away at the river’s confluence with Black Lake.

“If we don’t do something about it and cut this off, we’re going to lose this waterway,” said Compo.

So they’re going to. St. Lawrence Eastern Lake Ontario Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management, or SLELO PRISM, in charge of managing invasive species in the area, and Save the River volunteers are teaming up.

On August 5 they’ll be on the Oswegatchie pulling water chestnuts and surveying the river for more.

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