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Advocates object to Park Commission's approval of herbicide use in Lake George

Lake George, NY
Lucas Willard
Lake George

The Lake George Park Commission has approved using a herbicide to help control an invasive aquatic plant. The decision faces some local opposition.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the Adirondack Park Agency each recently granted approvals to allow the herbicide ProcellaCOR to be used in Lake George.

This week, the Lake George Park Commission approved 6-2 a contract to use the herbicide in an experimental effort to control invasive Eurasian Watermilfoil. The $39,000 contract will include the application of ProcellaCOR in two shallow basins where the milfoil has remained, despite efforts to hand-harvest the plant.

The Park Commission estimates it has spent more than $7 million on efforts to remove the invasive plant since the mid-80s.

LGPC Executive Director Dave Wick gave a half-hour presentation on the plan at the meeting. He spoke with WAMC.

“It is exceedingly effective against Eurasian Watermilfoil and it has no public health impacts. So we’ve been researching this for about a year and we’re going to be undertaking two sites,” said Wick.

During the presentation, Wick shared information on ProcellaCOR’s use in New Hampshire and in the Adirondacks.

In New Hampshire, a study found the treatment used on 63 acres of a 704-acre lake resulted in quick decomposition of Eurasian Watermilfoil, no impact on native species, and no post-treatment algal blooms.

The herbicide is applied in lower amounts than traditional herbicides and is destroyed by sunlight. Roughly half of Minerva Lake was treated, resulting in a non-detect of the chemical three days after application.

Wick hopes for similar success in Lake George’s two demonstration projects in Blair’s Bay and Sheep Meadow Bay.

“And we’ve done quite a bit of public outreach and public information on it, and unfortunately there is some misinformation that’s been put out there that’s really meant to be alarmist and scare people, but it’s just not backed up by the incredible amount of science that’s behind these products.”

Environmental groups including the Lake George Association have come out against using ProcellaCOR in the lake.

Chris Navistksy is the Lake George Waterkeeper, part of the new LGA.

“This chemical herbicide has been shown to be effective in small lakes and ponds, but not in a water body as large and as complex as Lake George,” said Navitsky.

Navitsky says while the chemical deteriorates quickly in shallow water with plenty of sunlight, it’s much slower to degrade in deeper, darker water.

He says within hundreds of feet of the application sites, the lakebed drops off to 90 feet deep. And that strong currents could carry the chemical away from the treatment areas.

“The lakebed drops off, the chemical can drift and can be in that water column much longer than they are claiming to be. So there are just a number of problems. In fact a deep lake in Wisconsin – Tomahawk Lake – found this chemical herbicide to be ineffective. And people claim, ‘Well, if that’s the case, this is just an experimental trial.’ Well, we don’t feel Lake George should be used as an experiment," said Navitsky.

Wick says the LGA and Waterkeeper have presented their case against the use of the herbicide without any data that contradicts state and federal testing.

“All they’re coming forward with and saying is, ‘Well, boy, we don’t know. It hasn’t been around long enough to be safe. It’s only been around three years.’ And that’s not true. The product was developed in 2010. It underwent eight years of review, ultimately, by the EPA and all the other peer-reviewed, scientific studies before the federal government signed off on it. And then another 18 months before the DEC signed off on it. So we just want to get the information out,” said Wick.

Navitsky says while it’s true the LGA does not have any long-term data on the herbicide’s application, concerns remain about the unknown.

The LGA says it and the Jefferson Project research effort offered to assist the Park Commission with data to study potential impacts, but were refused.

But Navitsky says even though a resolution was approved to award the contract, the treatment has not yet started.

“You know, there’s still time to try to work and resolve this issue to something that will be protective towards Lake George,” said Navitsky.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.