Mayor Carolyn Peterson closed the Cayuga Inlet to all boat traffic and declared a state of emergency on Wednesday in order to eradicate hydrilla, an invasive plant that officials worry will spread to Lake Cayuga, by applying an herbicide.
Hydrilla was first sighted in the inlet on Aug. 4 and has already covered 95 acres of waterways in the City of Ithaca, including Cascadilla Creek and State Marine Park. Some areas are completely covered in dense plant material, according to the Cornell Cooperative Extension’s website.
Shutting down the lake will prepare the inlet for herbicide treatment and help to prevent the plant from spreading, according to Prof. Holly Menninger, natural resources. Menninger is a senior Extension associate and coordinator of the New York Invasive Species Research Institute.
“It’s important to get boats to stop moving, and the only way to do that is to shut down the inlet,” said Roxy Johnston, watershed coordinator for the City of Ithaca.
Johnston said that boat owners inadvertently transport hydrilla by cutting and fragmenting the plant, enabling it to spread faster.
Peterson issued a formal request to Sheriff Ken Lansing to close the inlet, according to Julie Conley Holcomb, a public information officer for the City of Ithaca. The city and the county are still working out the enforcement details, she said.
The City of Ithaca intends to apply an herbicide treatment to the plant, but is still awaiting permit approval from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation. Holcomb said that the city anticipates receiving approval by Tuesday.
“We are operating within a window,” Holcomb said, referring to the fact that hydrilla is expected to reproduce around Oct. 15 and spread further.
Allied Biological, an aquatic management company, will apply an Endothall herbicide, Johnston said. The city plans to apply Endothall herbicide on Tuesday or Wednesday unless there is heavy rain or wind, Menninger said. She added the inlet will remain closed for a few days afterward, but that the city may reopen it the following weekend.
The city-formed Cayuga Inlet Hydrilla Task Force is planning a management strategy to ensure that the herbicide is effective, Menninger said. “There are a handful of options,” she said.
According to Johnston, similar eradication efforts in California were mostly successful.
“We have not been successful in reducing boat traffic by asking for voluntary compliance,” Johnston said. “For the last two to three weeks we’ve been asking boaters not to use the inlet. We’ve had some success, but it hasn’t been enough.”
The Cornell crew team stopped using its boathouse in the inlet two weeks ago.
Reactions to the inlet closure were mixed. Some officials said they wish the city closed the inlet earlier.
“It’s about time, isn’t it?” said Wade Wykstra, commissioner of the Board of Public Works and chair of the Ownership Committee for the Ithaca Area Wastewater Treatment Plant, who is also running for mayor. “The use of herbicide makes me nervous, but I also have an idea of the harm hydrilla will do, not just to Cayuga Lake, but to all of the lakes. I know what the herbicide is and, in this case, I trust the judgement of the people who’ve decided to use it.”
According to Johnston, some believe that if the city had taken action earlier, boat owners would not have had to struggle with the decision to voluntarily comply.
Some boat owners will have to reschedule plans to move their boats to marinas at the north end of Cayuga Lake, Menninger said.
“[Hydrilla] affects all of the marinas in town in terms of being able to do business, and not in a good way,” said Dennis Montgomery, the owner of two businesses operating out of the Ithaca Boating Center.
There are more than 700 boats on the inlet, according to Montgomery.
Montgomery said he doubts that stopping boat traffic and applying the herbicide this late in the season will prevent hydrilla from invading the lake.
Montgomery owns Tiohero Tours, a waterfront business that offers educational tours of Cayuga Lake to raise awareness of water quality issues.
Montgomery said he stopped all tour business in the inlet a few weeks ago and did a thorough inspection to make sure the boats did not pick up hydrilla. Montgomery said that he is still doing business, but cannot make up for the losses incurred by the hydrilla disruption.
“This weekend would have been sold out at the Farmers Market,” without the hydrilla problem he said.
Regarding the herbicide solution, Montgomery said that he has “mixed feelings, but if all of the agencies agree that this is the best way of dealing with it at this point in time, I’ll take the lesser of two evils.”