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Hydrilla Weeds Have Begun Showing Up In Finger Lakes Region – Plant Could Put A Stranglehold On Finger Lakes Turning Away Fishing, Boating, Other Lake-Based Recreation In Region Worth $600 Million To Upstate Economy

In Personal Letter to Fish And Wildlife Service Acting Director and EPA Administrator, Schumer Calls for Immediate Release of $380,000 and the Development of Long-Term Plan To Eradicate Weed & Keep It From Coming Back

Schumer: We Can’t Allow Hydrilla To Take Root


Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer called on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to immediately release approximately $380,000 in federal funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and urged the agency to jointly begin work with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to craft a comprehensive, multi-year strategy to combat the invasive species hydrilla that threatens to do serious damage to the Finger Lakes and Great Lakes. Hydrilla, a fast-growing aquatic plant that can choke off waterways and make boating and fishing nearly impossible, has recently been found in the Finger Lakes, but a one-year local Tompkins County plan to begin treatment  between May 28th and July 1st has been stalled due to bureaucratic red tape holding up approval of critical federal funding. Hydrilla can grow six to eight inches per day, and has the capacity to spread throughout the Finger Lakes and into the Great Lakes if a complete, long-term plan to eradicate the weed is not adopted. Noting the cost-savings that come with attacking the weed proactively as opposed to reacting after it has already spread, Schumer urged Acting Fish and Wildlife Director Rowan Gould and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to craft a multi-year plan that will prevent this plant from doing millions of dollars in damage to New York’s economy.


“If hydrilla takes root it will grow at record speed, leaving millions in economic damage to New York in its wake,” said Schumer. “We cannot let that happen. The Finger Lakes region generates $600 million in economic activity, in large part due to the tourists, boaters, and fisherman who visit these true treasures every year. A single aquatic plant could put all of that at risk, which is why I’m calling on the federal government to fast-track the release of federal aid for a temporary local effort to treat this water-borne enemy. But the feds also need to roll up THEIR sleeves and craft a serious plan to beat back this threat over the next several years. The local planning to fight the first occurrence in Tompkins County is underway, but we need a long-term regional approach to make sure we keep hydrilla from getting its hooks into Upstate New York and its neighboring states. The choice is crystal clear, even if our lakes wouldn’t be – we can either spend a small amount of money in the fight now, or millions down the road when it may be too late. We can let this be the next “zebra mussel.” We shouldn’t wait.”


In his letter to Fish and Wildlife Director Gould and EPA Administrator Jackson, Schumer noted that the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) – supported by Congress with hundreds of millions of federal dollars - has instituted a “zero tolerance” policy when it comes to new invasive species. Given the threat that hydrilla in the Finger Lakes poses to the Great Lakes, Schumer believes that the USFWS and USEPA should immediately craft a plan and provide the technical help and resources needed to stop the emerging threat of the hydrilla plant in Upstate New York and the contiguous Great Lakes states. Schumer pointed out that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has undertaken an aquatic plant control research project which includes work on hydrilla and could be a resource for EPA and other federal and state partners as they determine how best to combat hydrilla. Schumer is seeking to have this plan crafted immediately, as hydrilla can spread with incredible speed. A single stem of the plant can grow 268 feet in just a matter of five weeks. A large number of long stems in a lake can make fishing and boating nearly impossible. Losing the ability to boat or fish in the Finger Lakes would deal a massive blow to the state’s economy, and must be avoided. The plant can also cause serious environmental damage to other species living in the lake. 


In his letter, Schumer cited the hydrilla experience in the State of Florida as evidence for the need to enact a long-term plan now. According to Tompkins County, Florida failed to address the hydrilla problem early and now spends approximately $30 million per year to mow hydrilla plants throughout their waterways. In contrast, the County believes that less than $1 million a year for a minimum of 5 years will be needed to enact a local plan to eradicate hydrilla in New York.


A copy of Schumer’s letter to appears below:


Dear Acting Fish and Wildlife Director Gould and EPA Administrator Jackson,


I write to urge that you immediately address a serious threat to the nation’s lakes and waterways known as hydrilla, an invasive plant that can clog and destroy economically important water bodies across New York and the United States.  First, I urge the release of a $380,000 federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) grant to the Tompkins County Soil and Water Conservation District (TCSWD) that is needed to act on a state-permitted early treatment plan that can only be implemented between May 28th and July 1st of this year.  Second, I urge that your two agencies work together with local officials in New York to craft a longer-term, multi-year plan to combat the hydrilla in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. 


Hydrilla is a pervasive, choking aquatic plant that has unfortunately very recently made its first appearance in the Great Lakes water system via the Cayuga Inlet in the Ithaca region of New York State.  If it is allowed to spread, history tell us that this invasive plant could become very densely packed throughout the entire Finger Lakes and into the Great Lakes water system, making navigation difficult-to-impossible and devastating water-based ecosystems and regional economies.  According to research provided to my office by Tompkins County and their academic partners at Cornell University, the window to implement an early but long-term eradication scheme for hydrilla is closing fast.  Hydrilla spreads at a remarkable pace of 6 to 8 inches a day.  A single stem can grow 268 feet in a matter of five weeks.  In their estimation, if eradication is not achieved in this calendar year, costs will grow exponentially and the probability of invasion into larger waterways will increase significantly.  They predict that without an immediate and aggressive multi-year treatment regimen, the plant will spread throughout the Finger Lakes and into the Great Lakes.  Canals, inlets, tributaries and shallow lake areas would become unnavigable, preventing recreation and commerce and ruining the ecology of affected aquatic areas. 


According to TCSWD and their technical advisors from Cornell University, stems of hydrilla have been spotted in the past week of approximately a quarter of an inch and with warmer weather approaching, fast growth throughout Cayuga Inlet will occur if the temporary treatment plan is not implemented.  It is my understanding that a contract for over $1 million between USFWS and the Finger Lakes Lake Ontario Watershed Protection Alliance (FLLOWPA), an alliance of 25 NY counties who are part of the Finger Lakes Lake Ontario basin, has not been finalized.  Subsequently, the $380,000 sub-contract with TCSWD cannot be completed.  Therefore, it is imperative that this matter be expeditiously resolved. 


The Finger Lakes region of New York represents a $600 million economic impact for my state.  Moreover, the multi-state Great Lakes region counts on billions of dollars of economic activity generated by the Great Lakes each year.  As members of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) Task Force, I strongly believe that you should consider developing a specific and targeted long-range plan to combat hydrilla consistent with the GLRI’s “zero tolerance” policy towards new invasive species.


Combating invasive species has been a focal point of the historic GLRI created by the President and Congress in 2010.  In addition to instituting a “zero tolerance” policy towards the introduction of new invasive species into the Great Lakes water system, one of the GLRI’s stated goals is to have an “effective program of integrated pest management for invasive species developed and implemented.”  As you are aware, a significant amount of federal resources are currently being spent to combat the dreaded Asian Carp.  I, along with my colleagues from Great Lakes states, commend you for that effort.  However, another formidable opponent has materialized and demands swift action.  The consequences of inaction on hydrilla could amount to an economic Armageddon for local economies.


The estimation of cost for a multi-year plan are minimal compared to the potential scope of economic damage resulting from inaction.  Tompkins County estimates that a minimum 5-year plan at a cost of $1 million or less per year is required to aggressively treat hydrilla through herbicides and other treatment options such as benthic.  The reactive approach, as the State of Florida’s experience dictates, costs that state approximately $30 million per year to mow paths through the matts of hydrilla and periodically treat with herbicides to prevent complete clogging of their precious waterways. 


At the time of this letter, the scourge that is hydrilla in New York and the Finger Lakes and Great Lakes water systems has been contained to one inlet in Cayuga Lake, but with the recent discovery of growth that could soon be a much larger and broader problem.  With your help – and with the resources provided by Congress to the Great Lakes Restoration initiative – I hope we can eradicate it there in its tracks.


If you have any questions, please feel free to contact my staff in Washington D.C.




Charles E. Schumer

U.S. Senator


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