Milfoil Treatment Options and Safety Discussed

Ossipee — November 19, 2009 — A state expert on milfoil control this week fielded questions about the safety and effectiveness of a widely used herbicide that targets this aggressive weed. Amy  Smagula, the state’s exotic species program coordinator with the NH Department of Environmental Services, spoke at Monday’s select board meeting at the invitation of the  Ossipee Conservation Commission. Members of neighboring lake associations from Freedom and Effingham also attended the session.

While state funding for invasive species control has dried up this year, the town could choose to replenish its milfoil control fund via a warrant article. But the board did not take action at the Monday meeting. Groups such as the Ossipee Lake Alliance has used non-chemical methods to remove milfoil from the late, but state officials believe the extent of the new and rapid spread of weeds requires more aggressive action.

Infested areas of the Ossipee Lake system include 8.7 acres of Pickerel Cove, 4.1 acres of Phillips Brook, a tributary in Leavitt Bay, and an inlet in Broad Bay. New milfoil infestation has been detected in Pickerel Cove and the weed has been spreading from Phillips Brook into Leavitt Bay. Smagula discussed chemical and nonchemical treatments, and spent much of the time fielding board members’ and residents’ questions about the safety and effectiveness of the herbicide, 2,4-D. Select board chair Kathleen Maloney inquired about the safety of this herbicide.

“When all the plants are dying what’s going got happen with the fish? How far is the herbicide going to spread? How will it affect water quality?” she asked.

Smagula replied that 2,4-D has been used since the 1920s in agricultural settings and on crops around the world; it has been used in aquatic systems since the 1940s, and in New Hampshire since the 1060s. She said the herbicide has been extensively studied.

“Two-four-D and 10 other (herbicides) were reviewed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Environmental Research Center and of those, 11 total, 2,4-D was proven to be the most effective on milfoil, the most selective to milfoil, with no impact to non-target species. 2,4-D doesn’t migrate to groundwater. It binds quickly to sediment and doesn’t really move through the soil to the wells,” said Smagula.

She said the state conducted a study on lower Sunset Lake in Barnstead, which has very sandy subsoil. The state tested a well very close – about 10 feet – to the herbicide application area.

“We pumped that well routinely and that well did not draw the herbicide in even though the herbicide was applied adjacent to where the well was. So we no longer have that concern,” said Smagula.

She added that other New England states have conducted studies with  satisfactory results. Another problem with milfoil is that fragments can float or be blown from one part of a lake to another, or can spread when weeds hitch a ride on the bottom of uninspected boats.

Select board member Harry Merrow questioned nonchemical treatments, such as hand pulling and barriers that seemed to have worked well in other areas. Smagula said barriers work well in small areas with limited water flows; but in sections of the lake where there is significant flow and shifts in water levels, barriers can be pulled out. She said barriers are most effective in areas no larger than 10 by 20 feet.

Another problem is that even though the barriers are netted and weighted down to just above the bottom of the lake, gases released by the vegetation come up and cause the barriers to billow. This billowing creates a navigational and swim hazard. She noted as well that the state is working with towns and community groups such as the Ossipee Lake Alliance on ways to control the spread of milfoil.

Some control work is planned for Danforth Bay in 2010. She said the state might take further action to restrict movement of the weed, such as apply netting to contain fragments. One other issue for Ossipee Lake is that it is a very large, interconnected lake system.

“The potential for milfoil spread is still there, and so action is definitely recommended in terms of containment and control,” she added

The following editorial by Larissa Mulkern also appeared in the November 19th issue of the Independent.

Kudos for an excellent presentation

We’ve hung around enough town halls to know that “the State” gets bashed around a lot by some elected officials and residents who complain about mandates, over-regulation, funding or lack thereof, and so on and so forth. The state Department of Environmental Services is often the target of scorn for – gasp! – imposing regulations designed to protect our water bodies, the environment, wildlife habitat, from pollution and over-development.

We were  reminded earlier this week of the value of the services this agency provides, however. On Monday, Ossipee Selectmen, conservation commission members, and residents of towns bordering Ossipee Lake were treated to a fascinating presentation by NH DES Limnologist Amy Smagula, the exotic species program coordinator.

She spoke at length – and in plain English – about the problems with invasive milfoil control in the Ossipee Lake system, which includes infestations of the ugly choking weed in Danforth Pond, Broad Bay, Pickerel Cove and Leavitt Bay. Ossipee select board members expressed their concern with the use of the herbicide, 2,4-D, which is applied in pellet form in waterbodies with milfoil infestation.

Is this herbicide safe? Is it effective? Will it affect drinking water or public health? Will scientists learn down the road that 2,4-D is harmful after all? Valid questions, for sure, and the impressive thing was that Smagula was able to address all of these concerns with straight answers based on real data.

She explained the history of use, and all the scientific data that shows 2,4-d is safe for humans, fish and native plants as it targets the milfoil specifically. The “no swim zone” guideline after application has actually been reduced after studies show the herbicide dissipates quickly.

Smagula showed grace under pressure – it’s not easy standing up in front of skeptical board members and residents. She deserves credit for her poised and informative presentation.

We came away from the session with a much deeper knowledge and understanding of the milfoil problems and solutions. And in the event the select board does indeed propose a warrant article to set aside additional funding to combat the invasive species to protect a very valuable natural resource – our lakes – we hope that citizens support the effort. The combination of herbicide and non-chemical treatments and prevention is the way to go, and it won’t be free.

11 Comments

  1. Gordon Taylor 11 years ago November 22, 2009

    “The combination of herbicide and non-chemical treatments and prevention is the way to go and it won’t be free”. That is true! Right now, the property taxes that we pay for our small summer cottage are already astronomical;and, our home values will plummet considerably if our beautiful lake is ruined by this evasive milfoil. As an out-of-state property owner of a Cassie Cove lake front summer home we have absolutely no legal vote on these matters. We worry especially because Pickeral Cove is “just around the corner” from our home and we are concerned that evasive milfoil could already be growing undetected and undiscovered in the deeper water in Cassie Cove.. This problem needs to be addressed quickly.

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  2. Don 11 years ago November 22, 2009

    I attended what I think was one of the very first Milfoil control meetings at the Ossipee Town hall more than a few years ago. At that meeting the residents of the area adjacent to the Phillips Brook infestation were very opposed (and excessively vocal) concerning the proposed use of chemical treatment of the milfoil in that area, largely because of drinking water concerns. The state was represented at that meeting, but I heard no comments concerning studies or drinking water safety. The result was that the effort shifted to hand pulling. Almost immediatly following that, in spite of containment efforts, pieces of the plants floated all over Leavitt Bay, and inevitably the milfoil spread. I believe that we have all taken this problem too lightly and support any aggressive program to deal with it. In the absense of support and guidance from the state concerning chemical use I, like everyone else in that room that night, cowered to the local residents complaints, and reverted to methods that were not only ineffective but contributed to the spread of this stuff. As is the case in almost every area of infestation on the lake the plant was introduced by the launching of boats into the lake. In the Phillips Brook the plants were introduced in the Jay Loop area by the very people who opposed the treatment being proposed. The spread is now significant and it’s really too bad that it wasn’t contained when it was a very small area. Go for it!

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  3. Gordon Taylor 11 years ago November 22, 2009

    We agree completely. Also, I meant to say “invasive” milfoil, not “evasive”

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  4. typical gov 11 years ago November 22, 2009

    “We’ve hung around enough town halls to know that “the State” gets bashed around a lot by some elected officials and residents who complain about mandates, over-regulation, funding or lack thereof, and so on and so forth. The state Department of Environmental Services is often the target of scorn for – gasp! – imposing regulations designed to protect our water bodies, the environment, wildlife habitat, from pollution and over-development. We were reminded earlier this week of the value of the services this agency provides…”

    In this particular instance most rational people would agree that there needs to be an aggressive campaign to eradicate or at least control the weed. I certainly do. However I would caution anyone not to dole out too many kudos to the state. First of all if one asks how this infestation got started you might think back to how the state began to open up public boat launches with the intent being that everyone should have access to the lake. Consequently the number of non-local boats on the water increased significantly and without any kind of checks in place this kind of infestation was bound to happen. Second once the milfoil was discovered the state was and still is entirely anemic in its attempt to control it. Now it looks like the cost burden will fall on us to fix it. Of course it will because we have a vested interest in protecting the lake. If the DES really had an interest in protecting the lake they would have done so before now. What the DES did was create a 250 ft control zone that makes it extremely difficult for the lake front owners to maintain or improve their property and did nothing to deter the propagation of the milfoil. I’m glad you liked the presentation that was given but did you really not know prior to the presentation the extent of the milfoil problem??? Did you not already know that the only real way to treat it was with chemicals???? I’m not trying to be disrespectful but I am fed up with government involvement and regulations that continually miss the mark. Inevitably the tax payers (who are already stretched financially) are the ones being hit up for additional dollars because the government could not do the job right in the first place. Our backs are now against the wall here and we don’t have much choice but to cough up extra money to try and address the problem. So excuse me if I don’t share your sentiments regarding the DES. They are the ones, in my opinion, who let the problem get this far out of hand.
    (You may not be able to tell from my ramblings but I am not really in favor of universal health care either…who in their right mind would put there health and well being in the hands of such incompetence???)

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  5. steve 11 years ago November 23, 2009

    Can’t we all just get along? Typical gov I hope you feel better. We are where we are and we need to do what needs to be done. I am a land owner with rights to the lake and am willing to chip in to get rid of this and other species as needed. The other issue is the speed at which it can be funded for implementation to be most affective I believe.

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  6. Fred 11 years ago November 23, 2009

    It took me three years to sell one of my homes on Danforth Bay at a great loss due to Milfoil, it must be controled and controlled now before our homes will be worthless.

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  7. PeterPrinciple 11 years ago November 23, 2009

    “…if one asks how this infestation got started you might think back to how the state began to open up public boat launches with the intent being that everyone should have access to the lake. Consequently the number of non-local boats on the water increased significantly and without any kind of checks in place this kind of infestation was bound to happen.”

    Bingo. And none of those people have to pay a cent to control or combat the weed. They have no vested interest (other than the highly philosophical or theoretical — in other words: none) in protecting the waters.

    The state’s decision to allow anyone to put uninspected boats in anywhere effectively destroyed the property values of thousands of homes. These homes, and the lakes, were sacrificed on the altar of political ideology — and as usual what’s been left behind is a complete mess.

    How many presentations has Ms. Smagula given, and yet the funding is never there, or the selectmen fail to file for funds, or whatever — and the weed spreads and spreads.

    Worst of all: there is NOTHING being done to stop the weed from coming back starting the day after the chemical wears off. This is a permanent cycle of idiocy, and either the homeowners will pick up the tab for it in perpetuity, or the lakes will be swamps in 5 years.

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  8. typical gov 11 years ago November 23, 2009

    peterprinciple,
    It’s good to know I am not alone in my thinking…I wish the concept of holding the government accountable was more pervasive in our society but I fear the “can’t we just get along” and the “together we can” philosophies run rampant and the end result, in this case, will be homeowners picking up the tab or a lake turned into green mush…just like you said. As long as we continue to let the government play that game they most certainly will play it. Soooo who do I make the check out to….

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  9. John 11 years ago November 30, 2009

    We have been owned our property on Danforth Bay since October of 1989 in the town of Freedom N.H. and have enjoyed every visit and vacation spent at that location. We have made modest improvements to our cottage and have fond memories of the past and present times spent at our N. H. getaway.Our children have meet lifetime friends

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  10. John 11 years ago November 30, 2009

    Sorry, I clicked on submit before my message was complete. Continue, As I was saying our children have meet lifetime friends during our summer and winter vacations and to this day continue to enjoy the water activities (swimming, fishing, boating) not to mention the clean environment, mountains, the restaurants and entertainment located throughout the area.

    With that said, It is now 2009 and we are concerned and have been for quite sometime with the infestation of the rapid spreading of Milfoil throughout the Ossipee Lake region. We attended a Town Hall (Freedom N.H.) meeting related to the Milfoil issue on Danforth Bay in the late summer of 2008. We were told sometime after the meeting Danforth Bay was approved by the State and by the Selectmen of the Town of Freedom N.H. to start the treatment of the chemical 2,4-D during early spring of 2009,. Nothing was done, what exactly happened is my question and will it be treated this Spring?

    Amy Smagula was also the speaker at our meeting and was extremely knowledgeable of the effectiveness of the chemical 2,4-D against Milfoil.

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  11. Vincent 11 years ago December 5, 2009

    Agent Orange has two ingredients: One-half butyl ester of 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,5-T) and one-half butyl ester of 2,4-D and is contaminated with an average of 2-3ppm 2,3,7,8-TCDD. Additionally, 2,4-D has PCDD/Fs as known manufacturing by-products.

    Schecter, Arnold, John J. Ryan, Yoshito Masuda, Paul Brandt-Rauf, and John Constable. “Chlorinated and Brominated Dioxins and Dibenzofurans in Human Tissue Following Exposure.” Environmental Health Perspectives 102 (1994): 135-47.

    Vanden Huevel, John P., and George Lucier. “Environmental Toxicology of Polychlorinated Dibenzo-p-Dioxins and Polychlorinated Dibenzofurans.” Environmental Health Perspectives 100 (1993): 189-200.

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