19th Century species clog, choke river
By Andrew Firestone
Fans of the Mystic River began the long fight against invasive water chestnuts Saturday, going out in canoes to pull the plant out by hand.
“Right now is the best time to pick these water chestnuts,” said Commodore Michael Silvestro of the Riverside Yacht Club. “They’re small, so they’re easier to pick and easier to dispose of.”
While the plant is only two weeks old now, it grows larger and heavier throughout the season.
Patrick Herron of the Mystic River Watershed Association was on hand to educate the pickers about the plant and its effects on the river. “If left unchecked”, said Herron, “water chestnuts will choke out this river, degrade habitat, ruin recreation as well as the aesthetics of the river.”
Originally brought to the river in the late 19th century through Fresh Pond in Cambridge, the invasive species from Eurasia has become so dense that parts of the river are impassable. “The kayakers can’t use the river, they get caught up in the weeds,” said Silvestro. “It acts like a dam, that’s how thick it is now.”
Herron attributed the “explosive growth” of the species to “the significant nutrient loading from failing city infrastructures and runoff.” The river lies next to several major roadways, including I-93.
RYC member Ed Carnes described the pulling process in detail, as he pulled hundreds of pounds worth of the weed from the water. “Its like pulling in a bass. It’s stuck to the bottom and the leaves create a suction,” he said. “You got to wrap it up in your hand like a fishing reel.”
Working throughout the morning the group succeeded in pulling out several tons worth of water chestnut from the area around the club.
Jen Lawrence, director of Groundwork Somerville, said the campaign against the invasive plant would not be won in a single day. “The water chestnut come back every year,” said Lawrence. “We need to keep pulling and pulling it until it’s gone.”
After the morning clean-up, the workers enjoyed a barbecue as they clouds parted to reveal a sunny day. Carnes, covered in mud and dirt, like many of the group was exhausted yet pleased with the effort. “This spells productivity right here,” he said.
The Somerville News