In late July, there was a water chestnut scare at the Lake Erie harbor in Dunkirk. Fortunately, the organism was floating leaf pondweed. Nevertheless, the word "weed" in the name might make a person wonder whether this plant is good or bad.
By definition a weed is "any undesired plant that grows in profusion so as to crowd out a desired crop, disfigure a lawn, etc." Often a non-native plant, like the water chestnut, is undesirable because it may proliferate outside of its normal ecosystem. However, like beauty, undesirability is in the eyes of the beholder.
A classic example is the dandelion. Many people spend time, money, and energy uprooting them from their lawns. Yet dandelion leaves or roots can and are used for food. They may also be beneficial in breaking up hard soil so other crops can grow. Therefore, the first question is what one defines as a "weed."
OBSERVER Photo by Diane R. Chodan
While no water chestnuts have been found in Lake Erie locally, a profusion of green plants can be seen in the harbor areas. The question is whether these plants are detrimental to the lake or merely inconvenient.
Some sources consider floating leaf pondweed as a positive because it provides food for ducks and geese and is good fish habitat. On the other hand, overgrowth can lower oxygen which ultimately harms the fish population and creates problems for boaters or swimmers.
County Legislator George Borrello (R, Irving) is the chairperson of the Lake Erie Management Commission, whose mission it is to speak with a united voice for the Lake Erie Water Shed.
Borrello said, "Weeds this year are not unusually high (in Lake Erie)."
He did note that in shallow places, like the harbor, weeds tend to grow more.
Two employees at Chadwick Bay Marina, who did not wish to be identified, said that the weeds are not any better or worse than previous years. One thought that there may seem to be more weeds because the lake level is lower.
Gene Pauszek, who writes the Sportsman's Journal for the OBSERVER, agreed with the employee who mentioned the lake level. "The lake is at a record low level and weeds are more easily seen," he said.
He also explained that weeds in the harbor can be a problem for people who use a boat to fish. Weeds can get tangled in the motor and if not properly removed cause mechanical problems.
Donald Einhouse who works for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation at the Lake Erie Fisheries Research Unit in Dunkirk also said that Lake Erie in this area, because of its depth, produces fewer weeds overall, except in shallow areas like the harbor.
"In protected areas like Chadwick Bay the weeds can get a good foothold," he said.
Borrello differentiated between weeds and algae, even though both are plants. Complicating the definition and the understanding of the matter for a non-scientist is that algae is often referred to as "seaweed." Seaweed can make it unpleasant to swim and make the rocks in the lake slippery. People in Dunkirk may remember the summers when drinking water tasted "off" due to algae blooms.
Sue Franklin, chemist and lab director for the City of Dunkirk's filtration plant since 1984, explained, "We always get algae in the summer. In about 1994, we stopped using anthracite in the filter and switched to granular activated charcoal. That eliminates the taste."
According to Einhouse, too much nitrogen and phosphorus, such as from fertilizer or sewage, can cause algae bloom which can eventually lead to a lowering of oxygen in the water. This in turn can affect the fish population. For him, it is a balancing act, and his unit continues to monitor lake conditions.
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