Cautious of Herbicide, New Brunswick Stops Drawing Water from D&R Canal

Hydrilla Credits: City Hall

NEW BRUNSWICK — The city’s water utility is drawing water from a single source, due to an invasive plant that has spread through the Delaware & Raritan Canal, according to the head of the utility.

During last night’s City Council meeting, the director, Mark Lavenberg, said his team hopes to buy filtering equipment that will enable the utility to once again take water from the D&R Canal.

But until then, the tens of thousands of customers in New Brunswick, Franklin and Milltown will receive water from Farrington Lake, the utility’s second source, Lavenberg said.

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“We’re 100 percent on that,” he said.

The invasive plant—named Hydrilla, a nod to the nine-headed Greek mythological serpent—is native to China and can grow as quickly as inch per day, Lavenberg noted. The weed first came to the U.S. for use in home aquariums, according to the state Water Supply Authority, which controls the D&R Canal.

Hydrilla can reduce water flow and quality, city officials said.

“They believe that the plant, if left unchecked, could choke off the water supply by about 85 percent,” Lavenberg said, referencing the state authority’s calculations regarding the D&R Canal.

The state is undertaking a four-month push to introduce an herbicide produced by the company Sonar Genesis into the canal, according to the city. That’s slated to occur once per year for the next four to six years, Lavenberg said.

The state plans to pump low doses of the chemical into the canal in Hunterdon County, city officials said. Given the distance and the small amount, the herbicide shouldn’t pose any threat to humans in New Brunswick, Lavenberg said.

“The city feels very strongly that, even if it’s safe and everything’s good, we want to make sure that it’s not entering our water supply in any way, shape or form,” he added.

That’s why New Brunswick ceased drawing water from the canal. It will remain shut down until the water utility gets its hands on the necessary equipment, he said.

City officials have budgeted for the tools required to remove any residual herbicide, Lavenberg said.

State water officials first noticed the presence of Hydrilla during a dredging project in the fall, he said. It has caused problems elsewhere in New Jersey, according to the city.

The herbicide won’t immediately kill the weed, Lavenberg said. Instead, it halts photosynthesis, he said.

When people pick Hydrilla, it typically leaves behind roots or seeds, which soon revive the plant, according to online forums focused on aquatic plant removal.

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