Today, at the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer convened a meeting with federal environmental officials and Finger Lakes community leaders and local business owners in order to craft a comprehensive, multi-year strategy to combat the invasive species hydrilla that threatens to devastate the Finger Lakes and Great Lakes if not addressed immediately. Hydrilla is a fast-growing aquatic plant that can choke off waterways and make boating, fishing and other forms of recreation nearly impossible, and can grow an estimated six to eight inches per day. Specifically, Schumer brought representatives from the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to assist in the already exemplary efforts of Tompkins County in containment and eradication of hydrilla in the Cayuga Inlet, and the establishment of a larger prevention plan for the Finger Lakes. Schumer highlighted that the local, state and federal government must establish a joint, long-term plan to combat this invasive species, which could have dire economic repercussions for an entire region if not contained.
"Federal and local leaders must do everything in their power to keep hydrilla from taking root in Schuyler County and the surrounding Finger Lakes region," said Schumer. "If we don't take action now and hydrilla lands in Cayuga Lake or surrounding areas, it will spread at breakneck speed and leave millions of dollars in economic damage to New York in its wake. The hydrilla problem is costly, contagious and can't be allowed to spread in the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes region. Luckily this invasive species has not affected business and tourism in Schuyler County, and we must make sure it stays that way. As we have seen in Florida, a single aquatic plant could endanger the entire economy of Upstate New York, which is why I'm calling on the federal government to fast-track a preventative plan. The choice is crystal clear, even if our lakes wouldn't be -- we can either spend a small amount of money in the fight now, or millions down the road when it may be too late. We cannot let this be the next Asian carp or zebra mussel in New York."
Schumer joined elected officials, district managers from Soil and Water Conservation Districts, environmental engineers, economic development and planning specialists from Schuyler, Tompkins, Yates, Seneca and Ontario Counties as he launched his push to develop a long-term plan to protect the Great Lakes from hydrilla and ensure the safety of the recreation industry worth $600 million to the Upstate economy. Given the threat that hydrilla in the region poses to the Great Lakes, Schumer believes that the EPA, USACE, FWS and other related agencies should immediately craft a plan and provide the technical help and resources needed to stop the emerging threat of the hydrilla plant in Upstate New York and the contiguous Great Lakes states. This should include a supportive role to Tompkins County in their already strong existing eradication efforts in the Cayuga Inlet, as well as efforts to prevent spread from that body of water. Schumer noted that over the last few years, he has fought hard for funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and other programs to fund the fight against invasive species like hydrilla.
At the meeting Schumer personally requested the following:
First, that federal officials from the EPA, Army Corps, and Fish and Wildlife Service be briefed on the scope and magnitude of the problem by local specialists.
Second, that the federal officials in attendance provide a detailed briefing to their respective Regional and National Directors, as well as their representatives on the Great Lakes Task Force, on the specific aspects of this problem. A designated point person from each agency should be assigned to work with the local officials represented at the meeting to implement a strategy moving forward.
Third, that the federal agencies then put together a menu of federal action options for these local communities that could include help organizing new grant applications, technical planning help, or other federal funding opportunities within the discretion of the agencies overseeing the Great Lakers initiative.
Schumer also announced at the meeting that he had successfully fought to release $380,000 in a federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) grant for Tompkins County Soil and Water Conservation District (TCSWD) this June to fight hydrilla. After hydrilla appeared in Cayuga Inlet, only 20 miles away from Seneca Lake in Schuyler County, Schumer pushed for this funding, which comes from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and was critically needed to enact a state-permitted early treatment plan. That funding for immediate treatment of hydrilla in the Cayuga Inlet was officially released in early June and today's stakeholder meeting will help develop a long-term plan to ensure that this federal funding does not go to waste. Schumer hopes that a portion of this funding will go towards prevention in Seneca Lake, so that Schuyler business owners who rely on local tourism can rest assured that they will continue to enjoy consistently high revenue from boating and fishing enthusiasts who flock to the region. Schumer pointed out in his letter to FWS in May that USACE has undertaken an aquatic plant control research project, which includes work on hydrilla and could be a resource for the EPA and other federal and state partners as they determine how best to combat the growing scourge.
Schumer is seeking to have a preventative plan crafted immediately, as hydrilla can spread with incredible speed. A single stem of the plant can grow 268 feet in just a matter of five weeks. A large number of long stems in a lake can make fishing and boating nearly impossible. Losing the ability to boat or fish in the Finger Lakes would deal a massive blow to the state's economy, and must be avoided. The plant can also cause serious environmental damage to other species living in the lake.
Hydrilla, a fast-growing aquatic plant that can choke off waterways and make boating and fishing nearly impossible, can grow six to eight inches per day and could spread throughout the Finger Lakes from the Cayuga Inlet if federal and regional officials do not adopt a comprehensive plan to prevent and eradicate the invasive weed's presence in the Southern Tier and the Finger Lakes. After hydrilla appeared in Cayuga in August 2011, Schumer pushed for a $380,000 federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) grant to the Tompkins County Soil and Water Conservation District (TCSWD) from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) that was needed to enact a state-permitted early treatment plan. That funding was released at Schumer's urging in June. Noting the cost-savings that come with attacking the weed proactively as opposed to reacting after it has already spread, Schumer called together EPA, USACE, FWS and regional business and government leaders to develop a comprehensive plan that would keep Schuyler, Yates, Seneca, and Ontario Counties hydrilla-free and eradicate the invasive plant where it does exist.
Schumer has consistently cited the hydrilla experience in the State of Florida as evidence for the need to enact a long-term plan now. According to Tompkins County, Florida failed to address the hydrilla problem early and now spends approximately $30 million per year to mow hydrilla plants throughout their waterways. In contrast, Tompkins County officials believe that less than $1 million a year for a minimum of five years will be needed to enact a local plan to eradicate hydrilla in New York.