Weed cleanup at Massapequa Lake begins

A boat full of the invasive water chestnut A boat full of the invasive water chestnut pulled from Massapequa Lake is emptied. The plant has inundated the lake in recent years and is a threat to its long-term health. (Aug. 3, 2013) Photo Credit: Barry Sloan

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About 50 volunteers joined Nassau County officials yesterday, pulling weeds that threaten the ecosystem of Massapequa Lake.

The event marked the first weed cleanup effort at the 40-acre lake since the county obtained a five-year permit from the state Department of Environmental Conservation. The permit will allow ongoing removal of the water chestnut, one of several aquatic plants found on Long Island in increasing quantities in recent years.

"The water chestnut is a very dense, invasive plant species that floats on the surface of the lake and disrupts the balance of other life that inhabit it," said Brian Schneider, assistant deputy commissioner of the county Department of Public Works.

The plant's thorn-covered pods latch onto the mud underwater, crowding the area, blocking sunlight, preventing animals from accessing food, and stifling the growth of beneficial plants, he added.

Water chestnut is often sold commercially for decorative purposes in fish tanks, Schneider said. County officials have not determined the cause of the plant's growth in local waters, but something as simple as dumping a fish tank into a storm drain can expose the lake.

Armed with garbage bags, rakes and rain gear, volunteers plunged into the knee-deep water to pull up the weeds that have grown to cover a majority of the lake.

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Residents complained that the plant's growth became more problematic in the last year.

"I grew up in the area, and . . . the water used to be so clear," said Cathi Pokalsky, 51, of Massapequa, who volunteered with her family yesterday. "It seems like over the last few months these weeds have grown and created a stench in the air."

The county plans to clean the lake regularly, officials said. In July, it began a six-month study through Syosset-based Lockwood, Kessler & Bartlett. The engineering firm will survey the area and determine permanent measures for stopping the plant growth.

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