December 6, 2021

Plan to foil milfoil

Herbicide could be answer for Little York Lake

Photos by Todd R. McAdam/contributing photographer

Milfoil is already visible on Little York Lake at Dwyer Park in Preble. Property owners along the lake are seeking a state permit to use an herbicide to bring the week under control.

If everything goes according to plan, then one invasive species at Little York Lake could get a hefty dose of herbicides by this summer.

The Little York Preservation Society has spent almost a decade dealing with an invasive pest that has become an eyesore; has made fun difficult; and could cause the disappearance of the lake over time.

Variable-leaf milfoil, which grows back year after year, is an aquatic plant that produces a short, emergent floral spike above the waterline, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The preservation society has been living with and trying to rid the plant from the lake since its appearance in 2012.

“It’s a situation where something has to be done,” said Jim Reeners, an executive board member with the society and lake property owner.

Reeners, along with society Treasurer Robyn Fisher and Vice President Mike Reeners, presented their intentions to use the herbicide this week to the Cortland County Legislature’s Agriculture, Planning and Environment committee.

In 2010, zebra mussels invaded Little York Lake. “Which made it crystal clear,” Fisher said. “The lake was beautiful for about a year as long as you put your shoes on and didn’t step on those suckers.”

Then in 2012, milfoil moved in. For the past 6 1/2 years, the society, lake shore property owners and recreationists have had to deal with it.

Milfoil along the north shore of Little York Lake is poking through the surface.

In 2014 and 2015 the preservation society looked into using herbicides as a way to control the aquatic plant, Fisher said. “But at that point in time the New York state laws and policies were such that the permitting just wasn’t feasible for us.”

Other attempts at managing the weed were tried:

• Hand harvesting the plant.
• Dredging.
• Use of boat washes.
• Use of benthic barriers to block sunlight at the bottom of a lake.

All have worked only briefly.

Property owner Ted Larison is concerned with water quality, sure — both in Preble and points downstream all the way to the Chesapeake Bay. And he’s concerned about how much milfoil he and his neighbors haul out of the lake every year, and how it smells as it dries.

He points from his porch to the few feet of sandy bottom, courtesy of the lake lowering in the fall. The water rapidly grows dark as the weed encroaches. He wants his lake back.

“Herbicides don’t bother me. It’s not just throwing any chemical into the lake,” Larison said Friday over lunch. “They’re not just taking the first solution off the shelf.”

The preservation society decided in 2017 to begin looking at the use of herbicides once again.

Reeners said the preservation society is still waiting on the final permit from the state Department of Environmental Conservation to go ahead with using the herbicide — 2,4-D.

The society has already received a bid and will work with Solitude Lake Management to administer the herbicide, if permitted, to around 18 acres of the 110-acre lake early this summer.

The project will cost around $16,000. The society has already collected, through donations, $15,000.

“It (the milfoil) will eventually kill our lake and turn it into wetlands and make it totally unusable,” said Cortland County Legislator Linda Jones (R-Homer). “This is an answer they (the society) has found, they have raised the money. The county needs to realize that our county park is there and we need to participate in this and get it done.”

A public information session will be 7 p.m. Thursday at Preble Town Hall to learn more about the society’s plan.

Fisher has lived or spent summers on the lake for 25 years. Her son, as a kid, would paddle across the lake and onto adjacent Goodale Lake. But now the connecting waterway is blocked with weeds and Goodale lake is just a wetland.

Once upon a time, she said, “I’d jump right in. My uncle would swim across the lake,” Fisher said Friday. Now? “The milfoil grows so thick the kids won’t go in the water, it’s so creepy.”