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July 9, 2009

Race is on to eradicate invasive water chestnut weed

AMESBURY — Even as residents along Lake Gardner grapple with how to control a lake bottom teeming with milfoil, an invasive species threatening to deplete the lake of oxygen and force native species into extinction, another invasive species with even greater ability to overtake the ecosystem has quietly emerged to threaten nearby Lake Attitash.

Members of the Lake Attitash Association were granted an emergency order from the Conservation Commission this week that will allow volunteers to fan out along Attitash's back river region this weekend to pluck a thriving crop of water chestnut while the weed is at a manageable stage of development.

"We are poised to begin an emergency eradication program," said conservation agent John Lopez. "Evidently these plants are just about ready to seed. I issued them an emergency certification to allow them to go in and pull these plants."

Lopez said the group is waiting for the weather to clear before heading out on the lake, and volunteers are needed.

"They have 30 days (per the order)," Lopez said. "They hope to do it as soon as the weather clears. They need to pull these things out this weekend."

If the flowering, floating plants are allowed to drop their seeds, as they typically do between mid-July and the beginning of August, the species could prove catastrophic for the lake environment.

"Water chestnut is highly invasive, and if left alone could take over our lake in a few short years," said LAA representative Katie Karatzas in her petition to the commission. "One acre of water chestnut can produce enough seeds to cover 100 acres the following year,"

The water chestnut, or Trapa natans, is a floating, leaved vine that forms a canopy over the surface of lakes and ponds where it takes root. It can become so dense in such a short period of time that it quickly impedes navigation on the body of water and restricts swimming and recreational fishing.

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