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Norwood prepares to battle milfoil

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NORWOOD — The village is creating a battle plan to wipe out milfoil, an invasive aquatic plant that was discovered in Norwood Lake in September.

The infestation was first discovered by Frances K. McNierney, a St. Lawrence University undergraduate who surveyed area waterways for invasive species.

Milfoil can choke out a lake, harming the habitat of native fish and making life difficult for the humans who like to enjoy the water.

“It’s nasty to swim in, and it can interfere with boat motor operation,” Clarkson University biology professor Michael R. Twiss said.

Mr. Twiss is working with Norwood to come up with more ways to stop the problem before it gets worse. They will begin to measure how quickly the milfoil is spreading this spring.

Norwood Mayor James H. McFaddin is working on a few plans to combat the invasive species. Come spring, volunteers in boats will take to the lake to harvest as much of the plant as they can.

Mr. Twiss said these well-intentioned efforts must be done carefully, or they may cause more harm than good. Harvesting the milfoil won’t get rid of it forever.

“You have to keep doing it,” Mr. Twiss said.

The plant spreads by fragmentation, which means every broken piece left floating in the water can become a new weed. Well-meaning but careless harvesters can leave many fragments floating in the water. This makes the problem worse than before.

Harvesting is just one of the plans the village is pursuing.

“We’re addressing it in different ways,” Mr. McFaddin said.

One option is contacting Brookfield Power, which controls a dam upstream. Much of the milfoil can be killed by lowering the water level during the winter every few years. However, this will also kill native aquatic plants.

Some options remain out of Norwood’s financial reach. Mechanical harvesting or sending professional divers to harvest the milfoil by hand are both valid methods, according to Mr. Twiss, but much too expensive for the village to consider.

One way to slow the spread of the plant is to educate those who use the lake. Signs will be posted urging people to inspect their boats before going out on the water, to keep any spare bits of milfoil from hitching a ride.

Eradicating the milfoil, or at least stopping its spread, is essential. The weed spreads quickly, and is almost impossible to remove once it takes over.

The north country has been struggling with milfoil for several years. Black Lake is almost completely overrun, despite numerous attempts to clear it that have been underway since 2007.

One lake that has had some success battling milfoil is Lake Bonaparte in the town of Diana, which has fought the infestation with milfoil weevils, tiny bugs that eat down through the core of the plant and kill it. The lake association each year adds weevil larvae, purchased through Cornell University, Ithaca.

Mr. McFaddin said he wants to make sure the kind of infestation that has hit Black Lake doesn’t happen to Norwood.

The village’s vigilance may not be enough, however. Milfoil has been found in several other locations along the Raquette River, and will likely drift downstream.

“If someone upstream is not controlling theirs, you aren’t controlling anything,” Mr. Twiss said.

Mr. McFaddin said he is well aware that the effort needs to involve many communities. He is working with the Raquette River Blueway Corridor Committee, an association of communities along the river, to combat the problem as a whole.

“With the Raquette River Blueway Corridor Committee, we’ll take care of the rest of it,” he said.

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