ATTENTION: May 21, 2023 - Main ECNA Forum Boards are now open to MEMBERS ONLY until further notice!

Author Topic: Time to get serious about Invasive Water Chestnuts around Howland Island & Seneca River  (Read 173 times)

Doug K

  • ECNA Co-Founder
  • Administrator
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 1060
  • Choosing to Live FREE of Social Media Influences
  • Location: Port Byron NY
    • ECNA US Website
Well, the nice, crystal clear fishing channel we enjoyed on the Seneca River most of the Spring has now turned to a bed of Water Chestnuts that a large turtle (or small child) could "crowd surf" on. It's very thick by our home, and so I decided to learn all about this invasive species that seems to be a MAJOR ISSUE along the "abandoned" sections of the Seneca River around Howland Island and the Upper Montezuma.

I'm an Engineer by my past career and in retirement I'm trying to apply that skill to issues many of us share, like Trapa Natans, or the European Water Chestnut. There's plenty of information online, especially on where it's an issue in NYS and also, how to eradicate it. It seems that this is an ANNUAL weed, a water plant that can grow up to 20 or more seeds each year so the math says this can take over a waterway in no time. People, this is a RIVER KILLER invasive species. And it really needs a solution, before it infects every body of water in and around this area.

Here's the information from the NYS DEC on this invasive plant, their website claims the DEC also has programs to try and reduce the overpopulated waterways, but my neighbors tell me that no one ever comes here from NYS Canals, or NYS Dept of Environmental Conservation. This and other websites claim that the seeds from this plant can last up to 12 or more years, some once someone ties to clear it the effort has to be maintained until the very last plants are gone... no seeds, not annual plants.

And here's the Invasive Species page from the NYS Canal Corporation, the agency that can fix the issue if they start to deal with it quickly. Right now the NYSCC is centered on the Round Goby fish issue and hopefully with NYPA's lead they will get the Water Chestnut Invasive Species Program started soon.

We were told by our new neighbors, that the past owners who lived here, pulled it out using rowboats each year... so we thought we would try that. It sounded like a good idea until we realized this tiny raking idea would hardly make a dent in the issue here. And as we look up stream, seeing green beds lining both shorelines, we know that the best we can hope for is a miracle, or something close to it. Here's a few images of a manual clearing day here, and a link to a time lapse video clearing our boat launch.


Well, I'm sure this issue will get attention soon. It's CHOKING off the upper Seneca River, where the MAJORITY of kayakers and canoeist love to paddle. It's a favorite spot for many local fisherman, as the Bass here are monsters. But all that has stopped, the last kayaker we saw got stuck halfway through green mass and turned back. We used to see 10 paddlers a day,'s almost zilch. The public is NOT going to tolerate this for long, and there are PLENTY of solutions that need to be tried.

As for us, we are still learning, still working on this problem.... there's more to come, and hopefully the Calvary is just coming over the hill...

Here's a great website to find out where these Invasive Species outbreaks are:

And here's a view of the map around Howland Island... you can see that Water Chestnut issue starts upstream near the Town of Montezuma and just past Willow Grove. Time to start looking at the source and working the problem from there perhaps?

« Last Edit: July 31, 2023, 05:50:24 pm by Doug K »

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter

Doug K

  • ECNA Co-Founder
  • Administrator
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 1060
  • Choosing to Live FREE of Social Media Influences
  • Location: Port Byron NY
    • ECNA US Website
Just when it looked hopeless, like we would be spending the rest of our lives being "aquatic weed pullers" along our new home on the Seneca River, a miracle happened...

That miracle... New York State spent money on something that will help each and every neighbor along the Seneca - Erie River section of the NYS Canal System. We are not talking about a few thousand dollars to make it look like they were working on the issue of Invasive Species along the Canal System, but they spent BIG BUCKS on a Capital Equipment Purchase for a machine that will literally clean ALL the issues with invasive water vegetation from 2023 and beyond. New York Power Authority paid for the machine AND they have a couple experts from NYS DEC's branch of Fish & Wildlife learning how to run it.

This harvesting machine showed up in our backyard, it's a water chestnut beast of a machine, called the Eco-Harvester. It's made by a company in Waupaca Wisconsin called Silver Mist Aquatics, and is EXACTLY what was needed for the NYS Barge Canal System.

Here's a video from the company showing how it works

We watched this machine run for awhile, and the folks who were operating it saw us and came over for a chat. Seeing it clear the channel from a distance was pretty cool, seeing it up close was better. This machine was built for one thing... removing any floating invasive species of water plant. The conveyor/roller setup lowers just below the surface of the water and captures the plant with pressure and drives it to a waiting tote that hold about 4 cubic yards of harvested plants. The whole thing works in reverse to empty the collected plants and use the same conveyor to offload to a waiting trailer on shore.

What's best about THIS solution... it brings in the WHOLE PLANT, root, stem and those pesky seeds.

We took a couple videos, not great but you can see this machine in operation, right here on the Seneca River, in and around Howland Island.

Now for the best part... New York Power Authority placed this EXACTLY where it's needed most... not in Albany near Headquarters, Not in some far off place where it needed to be trucked around for use. They looked at the NYS Map of Invasive Species and dropped this machine right in Cayuga County at the Northern Montezuma Field Office of the NYSDEC... the epicenter of the water chestnut invasion.

Nothing could be better, except for the single fact that the team running this machine is also very passionate about their job, they know how large this issue is, and they work for the Fish & Wildlife division... those will benefit the most from removal of this green invader. If you get a chance, contact Frank Morlock and let him know that you support this work. If you need his contact info, ask, we will provide it to guest or members as needed. Frank is a Technician and helped spec this machine as the solution.

Mr Morlock will put you in contact with someone who needs to hear that the Seneca - Erie Neighborhood sees this Eco-Harvester as a BIG STEP in the right direction to clear up the mess made by the NYS Canal Corporation when the "shortcut" was added to the Barge Canal in the early 20th century that also started the slow demise of the ORIGINAL Seneca River that lies NORTH of the Erie.

Frank also made it a point to say that all Seneca River neighbors need to temper their expectations in year 1, as they learn how to best operate the machine and dispose of the collected plants. We saw them working on Day 3 of ownership with this new Eco-Harvester. The two we saw are learning how close they can get to docks and safely pull the plants, they are also learning how to minimize the time to dump the unit when it's full... all of this material has to dry and be hauled far away from the waterways or burned so that no seeds end up back in the canal system.

With only a fraction of the water flowing north around Howland Island the whole idea of making this a Paddler's Dream is a nightmare of choked waterways that get no love from the NYS canal Corporation. NYPA has the foresight to know that ALL of the Canal System is at risk from this green invader, the proof is in the map. You only need to see how thick the spread is near Howland and how it's also filtering downstream.

In conclusion.... once again it's KUDOS to the New York State Power Authority, for identifying the opportunity to make that Reimagine Program that much better, by putting the right tool, in the right hands, to get the tasks at hand accomplished. The move to a recreational Erie Canal System will depend on people being able to paddle these unique areas like Howland Island and the Montezuma preserve, Right now the river is choked off by a green monster. called Trapa Natans

Now the bigger question is this... What can Seneca-Erie Neighbors do to help?

Is it possible for LOCAL government agencies to assist in supporting the operation of this Eco Harvester by using the Erie Canal National Heritage Grant Program?

Can neighbors contribute through a Go Fund Me rally to offset the cost of operating this solution, in exchange for having their waterfronts cleared of water chestnuts?

Is there an opportunity for a private company to maybe get a second unit in operation and help clear NY waterways under contract?

How can Seneca River Neighborhoods & Neighbors get more information or on a list to have their riverfronts looked at for possible inclusion in this new NYPA Invasive Species Program?

It may be time to reach out to Rebecca Hughes and Brian Stratton... this solution needs to be working full time to capture this season's new crop of water chestnut seeds... they mature & fall off in July & August.
« Last Edit: June 25, 2023, 07:36:17 pm by Doug K »

Doug K

  • ECNA Co-Founder
  • Administrator
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 1060
  • Choosing to Live FREE of Social Media Influences
  • Location: Port Byron NY
    • ECNA US Website
Coming back to this topic so that the water chestnut issue can be better understood in the Upper Montezuma Preserve.

In short, thanks to the fine efforts of NYS, the Seneca River is now completely choked off for travel around Howland Island. The NYS Canal Corporation has grown another bumper crop of Trapa Natans this year, or better known as the Water Chestnut. In fact it's most likely 20X larger than last years' crop, as that how fast it multiplies.

Here's the current map of the Water Chestnut "invasion" along the Erie canal & Seneca River junction & downstream... note the gap upstream just out of the Cayuga Lake outlet

NYS DEC Website on the "invader" that pesky water chestnut -

So why does New York State Canals (NYSCC) and it's parent the New York Power Authority (NYPA) being called out... well it's simple. They own the major cause of the spread and propagation of this invasive species which is the change of water level when the decision was made to merge Erie Canal water with Seneca Basin water. We found this nice read about the issues with the Erie Canals impact to the Montezuma National Wildlife Reserve on a US Fish & Wildlife Service website.

Here's what they stated about their current initiatives:

In an effort to provide the greatest diversity of habitats, biological management activities primarily focus on habitat restoration, water level management, and land acquisition.

Wetland Restoration/Montezuma Wetlands Complex Partnership

As an establishing member of the Montezuma Wetlands Complex (Complex) partnership, the Montezuma NWR focuses much of its resources on wetland restoration. The Complex partnership includes the Montezuma NWR, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Northern Montezuma Wildlife Management Area, Friends of the Montezuma Wetlands Complex, Montezuma Audubon Center, Ducks Unlimited, and The Nature Conservancy. Complex partners work together to restore the historic Montezuma marshes—50,000 acres of wetlands that were drained in the early 1900s as a result of canal construction.

Water Level Management for Priority Species

The 10,000-acre Montezuma NWR is located in what was historically called the Montezuma Marshes. The water level within these marshes has been lowered by 10 feet for the construction and maintenance of the NY State Canal System, giving rise to the need to create and manage impoundments to provide historic habitat conditions.

First thing to note is the list of organizations involved trying to remedy the issue like invasive water chestnuts in the upper Seneca Preserve... quite a few:

1. Montezuma NWR
2. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
3. Northern Montezuma Wildlife Management Area
4. Friends of the Montezuma Wetlands Complex
5. Montezuma Audubon Center
6. Ducks Unlimited
7. The Nature Conservancy
8. US Fish & Wildlife Service

Second thing to notice... who's not listed in that group looking for remedies:

1) New York State Canal Corporation (working on flood problems, maybe too busy to notice water chestnut?)
2) New York Power Authority (recently purchased a harvesting machine, but can't support it's operation?)
3) Energy Companies working in the Finger Lakes & Central NY (uncontrolled water releases enhance the issue)
4) Finger Lakes Cottage & Community Association (these groups set lake levels)

There's an excellent website that shows where all invasive species of any type are located anywhere in the Country, I zoomed in on NYS and only the water chestnut invasions for that map shown above.

Those "green dot's really do NOT do justice to the problem, you have to look a little deeper, zoom a little closer in the map to see just how congested the Seneca River has become since these plants started surfacing in May-June.; The water chestnut invasion has choked the main channel to nothing, as shown in the close-up map view below.

The bottom picture was taken as a brave kayaker tried to navigate through what was left after the NYS DEC Crew came thru a couple weeks ago with the WCM... Water Chestnut Muncher, also known as the Eco-Harvester.

Now there are some GREAT organizations that are trying to help alleviate the issues with this years bumper crop of water chestnut, the MARSH! Group is in the process of hand pulling many areas around Montezuma right now... here's a bit of them from the Montezuma NWR:

MARSH! – The Montezuma Alliance for the Restoration of Species and Habitats is part of a larger effort to restore, protect, and enhance wildlife habitat on nearly 50,000 acres in the Montezuma Wetlands Complex. We formed this volunteer program to support the habitat restoration efforts of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Montezuma Audubon Center and other partners at Montezuma.

This group works on controlling invasive species in grassland, shrubland, forest, marsh and river. The work is hands-on as we cut and pull invasive species, collect native seeds, and replant with natives that will be more beneficial to wildlife & less harmful to Montezuma habitats overall!


It's beyond me why any group, like MARSH!, would pull these slimy plants out by hand, when there's a perfectly good machine to do that work PARKED at the Montezuma NWR at the US Fish & Game Service office. Of course I also can't figure out why NY State has "parked" their big solution when EVERY DAY these plants go unharvester is another day that seeds can drop and start next years crop.


If you are a property owner along the Seneca River please respond with pictures and a location where the water chestnut is closing off the river. Maybe if enough of us start posting, the New York State Power Authority will find some funding to clear the problem that their new subsidiary has brought along with them when NYPA acquired the NYSCC with the stroke of the Governor's pen in 2017.

If you have water access to remove the collected chestnuts, that's even better. What's needed here is a JOINT EFFORT between new York State and homeowners to clear this inavder that has now threatened to kill the upper Seneca it has become so thick. Allowing NYS agency access, to empty the Eco-Harvester, is a key to getting as much of this invader out of the river as possible BEFORE the plants reseed the entire river.

Here's a great area to start clearing, it's the BIG BOTTLENECK at Hard Point, where the "big cut" in the early 1900s took all the water away and the lower water levels have become a breeding ground for this terrible plant.

We have 6 acres along Hard Point, and a few locations of boat launches that neighbors would offer to empty the collected plants into waiting NYS Trailers. Here's what the Seneca River looks like right now at Hard Point.

You can find it on the Invasive species map... it's the BIG green dot

Folks, do you know the biggest waste there is? It's wasted TIME, you can't get it back... ever.

But do you know what the second biggest waste there is? It's good intentions that never get implemented... wasted solutions.

Hey NYPA... are you listening?

Can the ECNA buy enough gasoline to run your Eco-Harvester and start clearing the mess the Erie Canal has created at Hard Point?

« Last Edit: July 10, 2023, 08:09:42 am by Doug K »

Doug K

  • ECNA Co-Founder
  • Administrator
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 1060
  • Choosing to Live FREE of Social Media Influences
  • Location: Port Byron NY
    • ECNA US Website
My wife & I are new to the central NY area, and Port Byron, so we are still learning about "Life on the River" as some of our neighbors have termed it.

But one thing is for certain when you talk to "riverfolk" around the Seneca River and it's watershed... everyone who lives around here says the water chestnuts have been an ongoing issue, and it seems NOBODY in New York State actually cared that the upper Seneca River was being decimated... changed forever by this invasive plant. That water chestnut problem was basically being ignored, until NOW!

It only takes a handful of concerned citizens to get the right people talking about SOLUTIONS instead of always pointing out problems.

These are problems that most people already know about, and now they just want to know those issues are being worked on.

And all the river neighbors just want to see some ACTION to fix issues, not just words describing what we already know and live daily. We talked to one woman who sold and moved from her cottage near Mosquito Point because the water chestnuts were so thick they could NOT launch a rowboat. She said many tried for years to get anyone to listen and help... but to no avail.

My wife Sandy & I are some of those concerned citizens, and so we will are involved now, and will share what has happened since the last post. And we have been working with the NYS Canal & Power Authority for more than 5 years now, working on other Erie Canal Neighbor issues.

Hopefully the status quo will change, hopefully NYS has finally turned the corner on this invasive species, with a little help from NYPA...

We have been having a running conversation with many of the parties involved with this invasive species eradication. We have representatives from the New York State Canal Corporation & NYS Dept of Environmental Conservation, both Region 7 & 8, to New York Power Authority, and several agencies around Howland Island.

US Fish & Game is even involved and one of the leading advocates for cleaning up the problem with these invasive plants.

We have learned more about how the Eco-Harvester was funded and also who owns it, and will run it on a daily or by project area need. It may surprise some but actually was the BEST move that could have been made by NYPA. NYS Canals does NOT own or work on the upper Seneca region, but they DO use it to store excess WATER to operate the Erie Canal. And the running of the Erie Canal has a direct influence on what happens on the Seneca River.

Putting the Eco-Harvester in the hands of the New York State DEC means ALL of the arguments end, the NYSDEC does have jurisdiction over ANY INVASIVE SPECIES, no matter where it lives...

Here's an explanation from one of the top public facing managers in NYPA explaining how the Eco-Harvester solution will be applied:

Hi Doug,

To clarify, NYPA purchased the Eco-harvester as part of our broader efforts to aid in wetlands restoration, but it belongs to NYS DEC, as does the planning responsibility for operation and staffing. Like other employers across the state, DEC has limited staff resources and it does take time to operate the harvester and to offload the material on shore or onto a barge.

For the DEC folks, is there any scenario in which you would allow non-employees to become certified to operate the harvester? There are volunteer orgs who have been pulling water chestnut by hand for years now who are very dedicated to the cause. Have you sought to enter into agreements with waterfront residents for the disposal of plant material so that you might spend less time in transit?

Likewise, the Upstate Flood Mitigation Task Force has been a multi-agency endeavor with Canal Corp as chair but DEC, DHSES, and DOT playing key roles in the effort. Among the recommended measures, each agency will be responsible for those that fall within their statutory mandates.

So DEC will lead efforts related to floodplain and wetlands restoration and numeric modeling, Canals will lead on engineering studies of its structures, and DHSES will lead on any property buy-out initiatives, etc. Each of our agencies is bound by our legal mandates.

That said, we are continuing to work collaboratively to combine resources and to share information so that we can begin to make meaningful progress for residents of the Oswego and Mohawk River Basins.

Now I am sure some of you are checking to see if "Hell has actually frozen over".

Because that's when some of you said that NYS would get around to fixing the water chestnut issues along the Seneca River NORTH of the Erie Canal.

And look, in just over a week the NYE DEC has started running the Eco-Harvester around the Howland Island preserve, in what looks like a large scale training exercise on the new piece of equipment, and how best to operate it. These are a few images from yesterday, when the DEC Team ran through the main channel about half a dozen times. Hopefully they will be back again soon to clear more so that this years crop of new seeds doesn't just put all this back to square one... a choked off river system.

The channel is flowing again, we can see water moving and right after these teams finished up there were kayakers ready and waiting to use the waterway.


Here's a nice video of the Eco-Harvester in action, it takes the right balance of boat speed, conveyor angle and drum force, to pull an infestation this thick out of the water. A few times the machine was clogged, and had to be cleared, but as each team member got time with the trainer and the others on the team. they started to pull more water chestnuts, with less issues, and in shorter times. Hopefully more training is planned, there's still about 4 acres left to pull right in this area.

Eco-Harvester on the Upper Seneca River

So KUDOS to new York State DEC for a great job getting this program up and running. From the view of the ECNA, a week to get rolling is a wonderful change, from the normal 18 month "discussions" that always seemed to plague NYS programs from being as effective as they could be. This solution was put to work immediately.

And you can all see the result...

Hopefully the NYSDEC has realized that eventually, ALL areas around the Seneca need to be "swept" once, and then measurement recorded on how much less there is in subsequent years.

Eventually this new piece of machinery has to have OPERATIONAL expectations on how much it can clear, in what amount of time and at what cost... so that the entire problem with invasive water chestnuts can be brought under control.

Seneca Neighbors will ALSO need to take a part in the solution, clearing around their docks enough by hand so the machine can get in to get the rest of it. Some neighbors will have to help by allowing access to dump captured plants for removal along the shoreline at key points along the river. Capturing chestnuts is one part, hauling them away from the water is another, and disposal is yet another step in the long process of eradication.

If you think you can help... please reply to this post.

And it's ALSO time for our Civic & Town Leaders to step up... there's a grant program available to help fund projects like this.

The NYS Canal Corporation is ready and willing to work with local municipalities to correct past issues, and work towards a "reimagined" Erie Canal system that replies less on commercial use and power boaters, and is instead geared towards a recreational.

It's time for local governments to get involved, write some words to get a grant to help clear these critical wildlife areas in and around the NYS Canal System so that the entire Erie Canal National Heritage Corridor is kept healthy and sustainable well into it's next 100 years.

Working together we can accomplish ANYTHING we put our minds to, as long as our hearts are in it as well...

« Last Edit: July 20, 2023, 10:56:12 am by Doug K »