There are more than 20 invasive species currently found in Lake Champlain. Scientists say the pests entered the lake through the Champlain Canal that connects the southern part of the lake to the Hudson River. Now, there is a new threat: the spiny water flea.
"It is a small animal plankton that reproduces very rapidly. There is a new generation in the summertime every two weeks, so population increases can be pretty dramatic once it gets established," said Mary Watzin of the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources.
The fleas are about a half inch long and compete with native species for food. They're also a nuisance to boaters and fishermen.
Monday, Sen. Patrick Leahy called on the New York State Canal Corporation to take action to prevent invasives like the spiny water flea from entering the lake. In fact, Leahy says for years he has secured funds for New York to design and implement invasive species barriers for the canal.
"And it really ticks me off this money has gone unspent for years while the New York Canal Corporation has shown no sustained interest," said Leahy, D-Vermont. "We have gotten nice letters, we have occasional meetings. I mean, how many species have to come in before they do something?"
Leahy says if experts say closing part of the canal can prevent the spread of the spiny water flea, that should be done.
"There are models in other states around the country that show us how we can close a canal and provide for transfer around the closed section of the canal that will allow boats from moving up and down the waterway," said Watzin, talking about the Rapide Croche boat transfer that is proposed for the Fox River in Wisconsin.
The lock there was closed in 1998 to block invasive species. The proposed transfer station would lift the boats, sanitize the hulls, and then put the boats back in the water upstream. It has been in the planning stages for several years.
Harlan Kiesow is the CEO of the Fox River Navigation System Authority. He says it will still be years before construction will begin, and it is not fool proof.
"There are so many different methods for transfer of the species that you can always have something that might be transferred, but we feel this system, as far as boat transfer to the lock system, would provide safeguards. But there is no guarantee," Kiesow said.
Leahy admits New York can't be forced to close part of the canal.
"We can't force New York, but we can also point out that they have a responsibility," Leahy said. "They do border this lake-- New York line comes halfway across the lake. It certainly affects a lot of people in New York and I have gotten them the money, so it is really a no-brainer."
And experts add once the spiny water flea makes its way into Lake Champlain, that puts other waterways in the Adirondacks in jeopardy, too. And scientists say eradicating established spiny water flea infestations is impossible.
We got a statement Monday afternoon from Dan Weiller, the director of public affairs at the Canal Corporation. He said there is no plan to shut down the Champlain Canal and the Canal Corporation is actively working with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and partners in the Lake Champlain Basin to examine alternatives to slow the spread of the spiny water flea.
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