August 1, 2012

Team recommends immediate action to prevent invasive spread


---- — PLATTSBURGH — Officials are recommending steps to prevent the spiny water flea from entering Lake Champlain, including redirecting the flow of water from the Champlain Canal.

But the New York Canal Corp. said it will not close the canal to boat traffic.

The spiny water flea, a tiny creature that feeds off plankton and can cause considerable damage to the ecosystem, was first identified in June near Lock 9 in the Champlain Canal, about 13 miles south of Whitehall on the southern edge of Lake Champlain.

That confirmation sparked the Lake Champlain Basin Program’s Aquatic Invasive Species Rapid Response Task Force into action to determine the best plan to meet this potential treat to the main lake.


“The Task Force has determined that it is not scientifically and technically feasible to contain and eradicate the spiny water flea in a rapid-response time frame,” said Meg Modley, coordinator for the Basin Program’s aquatic invasive-species management program.

“Even if we were to contain them, killing them all would not be feasible,” she added. “The Champlain Canal and Glens Falls Feeder Canal are complex systems. You can’t simply close the lock and stop the water flow. All parts of the system would have to be treated.” 

The team identified two options:

▶ Closing three locks on the canal and diverting the flow of water into the Hudson drainage to the south.

▶ Installing a hydrologic barrier to prevent the movement of the water flea and all other aquatic invasive species through the canal system at Lock 9. A boat lift would be required for this second option so vessels could continue to travel through the system.


However, both options face significant obstacles. The New York State Canal Corp. is required by law to keep the waters of the Champlain Canal open and navigable. The Canal Corp. issued a statement this week saying that it would not consider that option, citing the economic impact such a move would have on marinas, restaurants and other businesses along the access route to Lake Champlain.

The implementation of a hydrologic barrier would require substantial design, development, engineering and financing that cannot happen quickly.

In all, the Rapid Response Team released seven recommendations for managing the spiny water flea.

“They are recommendations,” Modley said. “They will all be pursued. I don’t know if all will be executed, but we’re looking at long-term solutions for all invasive species, not just the spiny water flea.”


The Rapid Response Task Force will work with the Canal Corp. to explore the possibility of redirecting surplus water in the canal to the south rather than into the Champlain drainage system as it does now.

Efforts will also move forward to complete a feasibility study to determine the best options for preventing aquatic invasive species from using the Champlain Canal to enter Lake Champlain.

Sampling efforts will be increased in the Champlain and Glens Falls Feeder canals, including testing of fish that may have consumed the spiny water flea.

The Rapid Response Team has urged the New York Canal Corp. to issue public-service announcements to alert canal traffic to the presence of the creature. The Basin Program is also expanding its steward program, in which volunteers greet boaters at boat-launch sites and provide education on invasive species.

“We will be meeting shortly to continue going over these recommendations,” Modley said. “Who, what and how fast this can happen will have to be seen.”

As of this week, scientists had not identified any new infestations of spiny water flea north of the first sighting.

Email Jeff Meyers: