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Team of locals begin hand pulling Hydrilla from Fall Creek

A small group of city employees, scientists and members of the New York State Parks Department began hand pulling the invasive plant Hydrilla from Fall Creek on September 23 due to the ineffective herbicide treatments that have been going on since July.

“This would provide us the management opportunity and was the most feasible,” Hydrilla program director James Balyszak said.

The task force of eight people went out on two-person rowboats and used dip nets and rakes to carefully remove the plant from an area of Fall Creek informally known as the Fall Creek Cove.

Bob Johnson, owner of Racine-Johnson Aquatic Ecologists, and present to help in the pulling, said that they got out into the creek in water two-to-three feet deep to pull, and realized that Canadian geese had eaten most of it.

With less to do, they got a majority of the pulling done on the first day, Balyszak said. He and Evelyn Rosekrans, a Water Treatment Plant intern, were the only people that went out on Wednesday to pick out the remaining Hydrilla in the cove.

“There were patches of Hydrilla, but at a certain point it became so sporadic, and there was only one plant in different locations. It was hard to keep up with,” Rosekrans said of the second day of hand pulling.

There are two different herbicide treatments going into both Cayuga Lake, where Hydrilla was first discovered, into Fall Creek, and into the golf course lagoon where Hydrilla has spread, according to Balyszak.

“Throughout the inlet we have injection units that inject a liquid formulation of the herbicide. In certain areas with less flow we use the pellet,” Balyszak said. Both of these methods are used in Fall Creek.

Johnson and Balyszak both agree that the heavy water flow in Fall Creek is the reason why neither herbicide is working. “In fall creek we had our suspicion it would dilute very quickly based on the water there. The treatment was successful but not nearly as successful as we wanted,” Balyszak said.

The Hydrilla eradication program in Ithaca has gone relatively well since discovering it in Cayuga Lake in 2011, according to Johnson. “The only fly in the ointment is Fall Creek,” he said.

According to Johnson, germination could happen at any point during an eight-year period that the plants’ tubers and roots are in water; so the original proposal was that this project would take eight years to eradicate the species from Ithaca waters. “We were on our way to that until it got to Fall Creek,” Johnson said.

Now that their hands-on management plan has been conducted successfully, the next step is more monitoring, Johnson said. Racine-Johnson, his consulting firm, along with the Ithaca Water Treatment Plant, have been conducting hundreds of water and sediment tests to monitor the rates of Hydrilla growth in all areas, and to ensure the safety of native plants and animals in the water.

“Most people in the country think we’re crazy,” Johnson said of the extensive monitoring process they have been conducting for the past three years, “but we really need to know what’s there, and other organizations don’t do as much monitoring.”

While the Stop Hydrilla task force has been set back by the Fall Creek Cove’s Hydrilla infestation, “we are still on a path to eradication, to get rid of it completely,” Johnson said.

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