The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has awarded Clarkson University researchers a three-year grant worth $58,554 to determine an environmentally sustainable approach to controlling invasive watermilfoil with an ultimate aim to eradicate it from the Raquette River watershed. Eurasian watermilfoil and variable leaf watermilfoil are two plants with the ability to spread rapidly in waterways and choke out native aquatic plants.

“Our project is interdisciplinary and involves both researchers and the public.” says lead investigator Assistant Professor of Mathematics Diana White. “There are a number of possible solutions to controlling this invasive species, which can reduce shorefront property value and degrade recreation in affected waters, but none will work alone.  

“Therefore, an integrated approach will be needed, where this invasive is controlled by physical removal, bottom covers (which prevents growth in heavily infested areas), and lake augmentation of the milfoil weevil, a native insect that feeds on and damages the invasive milfoil. Our research involves mathematical modeling, which can be used to predict how different management scenarios work to control milfoil growth and spread. The idea is to come up with a sustainable approach that meets all stakeholder needs.”

Clarkson Biology Professor Michael Twiss studies local lakes and rivers and contributes to the project. He says, “If we can control watermilfoil in Norwood Lake then we can share our methods with communities both upstream and downstream along the Raquette River since this species spreads with the current, as well as by attaching to boats moving from one area to another.  The ultimate success will require participation from all communities in the area and continued vigilance since this invasive plant is found throughout New York State. Unfortunately, the Raquette River was the last major river watershed to be invaded.”

The recent 12-foot water level drawdown in Norwood Lake provided an unexpected opportunity to study and begin controlling the harmful plant. Visiting Assistant Professor of Mathematics Jonathan Martin initiated a survey to fathom where this plant is. “With most of the lake bottom exposed, we’ve had the opportunity to map both plant abundance and distribution and sediment type. This information will be invaluable towards constructing predictive models,” he says.

The Clarkson University Rowing Club and the Norwood Lake Association both helped gather invasive watermilfoil during the recent water drawdown. The gathering was used to collect data on the biomass of the plant in the lake, the human effort to collect it, and the effectiveness, as determined by surveying planned for next summer.

This awarded project is one in the first round of grants in the NYSDEC Invasive Species Rapid Response and Control Grant Program. The goal of the Department of Environmental Conservation’s rapid response for invasive species policy is to promote timely decision-making and communication in the event of a new invasive species infestation. 

The team, involving White, Martin, mathematics student Eric Takyi, Twiss and environmental sciences & engineering graduate student Kyle Mummau, are all affiliates of the Institute for a Sustainable Environment at Clarkson University.

Since Clarkson University places high value on the natural environment and the social well-being of its students, employees and the broader Northern New York Community, the University mission, vision and values statements integrate sustainability principles and practices into all of its activities. This investigation of a pressing issue regarding an invasive aquatic species in a local community is one example of this.

The team will present its approach to controlling and eradicating invasive watermilfoil at the upcoming Associated Colleges Sustainability Day, this Friday, September 29, from 2-2:30 p.m. at the SUNY Canton campus in Canton, N.Y.

Clarkson University educates the leaders of the global economy. One in five alumni already leads as an owner, CEO, VP or equivalent senior executive of a company. With its main campus located in Potsdam, N.Y., and additional graduate program and research facilities in the New York Capital Region, Beacon, New York and New York City, Clarkson is a nationally recognized research university with signature areas of academic excellence and research directed toward the world’s pressing issues. Through more than 50 rigorous programs of study in engineering, business, arts, education, sciences and the health professions, the entire learning-living community spans boundaries across disciplines, nations and cultures to build powers of observation, challenge the status quo, and connect discovery and innovation with enterprise.