On Cayuga Lake, Researchers Fight Hydrilla

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ITHACA, NY (WSKG) – This year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers started working  with citizen groups and government agencies to eliminate hydrilla on Cayuga Lake. 

Celia Clarke/WSKG Public Media

Mike Uitvlugt (left), Mike Greer (center), of the Army Corps of Engineers and Doug Jones, (right), a researcher from University of Florida. (Celia Clarke/WKSG Public Media)

Hydrilla is an invasive aquatic plant first found in the northeast by Ithaca residents six years ago. Initial local efforts successfully controlled the weed but it has reappeared on Cayuga Lake.

That’s why, on a breezy late summer morning, Mike Greer steered a small Army Corps of Engineers’ motor boat away from the dock in Stewart Park, in Ithaca.

Greer is the lead researcher working on hydrilla on Cayuga Lake. Two colleagues are with him.

The boat quietly moves through a 70-acre area of the lake. The researchers are looking for hydrilla.

“Yeah, it’s a noxious weed,” said Greer. “It just takes over and makes everybody’s life a little bit difficult.”

Hydrilla grows quickly. It can crowd out native vegetation, clog waterways, pose a danger to water quality and other aquatic life.

Part of the Army Corp’s mission is to keep U.S. waterways clear. Greer said in Aurora, they’ve almost completely eliminated the hydrilla. This is the first year they are working at the southern end of the lake by Ithaca.

Hydrilla was identified early here, so Greer said there’s a better chance of eradicating it.

“I don’t know too many places where hydrilla eradication has really been a goal,” he said. “Really, I think Cayuga Lake and the Erie Canal are two places where that’s really happening for the first time.”

Celia Clarke/WSKG Public Media

Rake used to pull up vegetation while searching for hydrilla. (Celia Clarke/WSKG Public Media)

To get rid of hydrilla they use two types of herbicides. One works on the outside of plants, and another absorbs inside the plants. Greer said the herbicides pose a low risk to human health, drinking water and native plants. 

They test water samples weekly to check that the chemicals from the herbicide are gone. Cayuga Lake provides the drinking water for over 30,000 people in Tompkins County.

As Greer steers the boat, he occasionally gestures to Mike Uitvlugt, a retired Army combat vet turned biologist. He tosses a rake-end tied to a rope into the shallow water.

It hits bottom and Uitvlugt pulls it back on board and  id’s any plants he brings up. They get recorded into a database. Then, Uitvlugt tosses the plants back in the water.

On this day, none are hydrilla.