Cranbury: Invasive Water Chestnut Species Eludes Capture

European Water Chestnut Credits: Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut,

CRANBURY, NJ – Talk about getting out of Dodge.

According to Committeeman Susan Goetz, Princeton Hydro spotted a problem in Brainerd Lake at the beginning of June, when employees came out to apply an aquatic herbicide to the lake.

After an evaluation to determine what type of vegetation was present, Township Committee members were told they had an invasive water chestnut species on their hands, Goetz said.

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“You have 50 plants one year, you can have three acres the next year, you can have 10 acres the following year,” she said. “We have a 10-acre lake.”

According to the United States Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Library, the water chestnut, or Trapa natans L., is a native of Eurasia, having been introduced to the United States for ornamental purposes in the 19th century.

Because it rapidly crowds out native plant life, PH stressed the importance of pulling out the few plants noted before they got a foothold in the lake.

Only problem was, when Goetz's posse of about 10 volunteers floated an armada of canoes and kayaks out onto the lake, they couldn't find a trace of the unwelcome visitors.

“We went out with our leather gloves and our plastic bags and we couldn't find a water chestnut to save our lives,” Goetz said, as the room erupted in laughter. “We were so ready!”

This was surprising, Goetz said, because the group members thought they knew what they were looking for.

When PH came back out to do the second herbicide treatment a couple weeks ago, Goetz said she asked the employee to show her where the water chestnuts were.

According to Goetz, he couldn't find them either.

He theorized that the plants were fairly new and loosely rooted in the lake when they were spotted, she said.

“What he believes happened is probably the herbicide did some sort of destruction to the stem and dislodged them and they basically flushed away,” she said.

The absence of the plants this year does not mean that they won't crop up next year though, Goetz said.

“It's something that we're going to have to look for every year,” she said.

In a public information video posted to YouTube, Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association Education Director Jeff Hoagland said that catching a water chestnut invasion early and manually removing the plants is one of the best ways to stop the species' spread.

Hoagland talks more about preventative measures the public can take when recreating in or near the water, as well as characteristics of the water chestnut in the video.

Founded in 1949, the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association is central New Jersey’s first environmental group, according to the organization's website.

According to the website, the group's goal is to improve the health and quality of central New Jersey's water and sustain a network of protected habitats for wildlife and people.

A non-profit organization, SBMWA depends on the support of members and volunteers to protect water and the environment through conservation, advocacy, science and education.

Princeton Hydro was formed in 1998 and provides ecological and engineering consulting services, according to the company's website.

Based in Ringoes, with offices in New England, Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey, the company offers expertise in aquatic and terrestrial ecology, water resources engineering and geotechnical investigations, according to its website.

“I do urge people if you're going to be out on the lake, become knowledgeable about this water chestnut, keep your eye out for it,” Goetz said. “If you do spot it, let us know."

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