DEM, Partners Seeking Volunteers to Help Remove Invasive Plant from East Providence Reservoir in Early July

Published on Thursday, June 27, 2024

PROVIDENCE, RI – The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM), along with the City of East Providence, the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission (NEIWPCC), are recruiting volunteers to help remove invasive water chestnut plants from the Turner Reservoir in East Providence. The water chestnut is a virulent aquatic plant that’s native to Asia. It has expanded rapidly in the waterbody. Highly aggressive, it forms dense mats that steal sunshine from and ultimately displace native plant species, alter the habitat for fish and wildlife that depend on it, and interfere with recreational activities such as fishing, boating, and paddling. Volunteers are needed to gently hand-pull and collect as many of the invasive plants as possible before the seeds form at the end of July. This management method has proven to be effective at limiting its spread.

Community harvesting events are scheduled on Tuesday July 2 from 4 - 7 PM, Saturday July 6 from 9 AM - 12 PM, Tuesday July 9 from 4 - 7 PM, Wednesday, July 10 from 4 - 7 PM. Volunteers will be provided a bucket or laundry basket and gloves to collect plants. Paddlers who bring their own canoe or kayak, boaters with small trolling motors, or even anglers donning their chest waders can help by plucking plants out of the water. Non-boating volunteers can stay ashore and help haul the containers from boats to unload the plants for disposal. Wheelbarrows will be provided to compost the plant on site. Free canoes will be available on-site to use for the event, provided by the Friends of the Blackstone/Blackstone River Watershed Council, however interested volunteers must pre-register here to reserve their spot in a canoe. Registered volunteers will receive additional information, and updates such as any rain cancelations. These events are open to all, including high school students or scouts seeking volunteer hours. No experience is necessary. Previous volunteers have reported it to be a fun, calm activity on the water that is rewarding to watch the weeds pile up.

The Turner Reservoir is a popular fishing and kayaking spot, supporting an important bass fishery, local wildlife photography and bird watching. The problematic plant, water chestnut (Trapa natans), is a highly aggressive invasive, growing and multiplying quickly to cover the water’s surface. The invasive plant threatens fishing, boating, and paddling opportunities, disturbs the healthy balance of native plants and healthy wildlife habitat, and becomes costly to manage after only four to five years of unchecked growth. As partners on the project, DEM and the Town of East Providence, RI are tackling the invasive plant at both Central Pond and Turner Reservoir along the MA-RI border. The larger regional project is led by the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission (NEIWPCC) to help local organizations learn to manage invasive water chestnut. The project is funded by a grant to NEIWPCC from the Southeast New England Program (SNEP)’s Watershed Implementation Grants to help restore aquatic habitats. Successful volunteer hand pulling events have been held this year by the Blackstone River Watershed Council (BRWC)/ Friends of the Blackstone, the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council (BVTC), and Lake Quinsigamond Watershed Association.

Utilizing the SNEP grant funding, The City of East Providence will be working with licensed contractors to treat Central Pond and the eastern shoreline of Turner Reservoir with EPA-registered chemical herbicides to help control invasive plant under control. Central Pond has the largest population of water chestnut in RI, covering over 50 acres of the 137-acre pond. Further upstream, the City of Attleboro is also treating Dodgeville Pond to reduce the water chestnuts as part of the SNEP funded project to address the problem from a holistic watershed perspective. However, volunteers are still needed in Turner Reservoir south of Newman Ave, along the Seekonk shoreline to remove isolated plants before their seeds form. This is the fourth year in a row that volunteers have been recruited to help weed at Turner Reservoir to keep it under control, and successful efforts to date have stopped water chestnut from rapidly expanding like they have to the north in Central Pond.

DEM has managed water chestnut each year at several locations in the state, with successful annual monitoring and surveillance efforts at Belleville Pond, in North Kingstown, Sylvestre Pond in Woonsocket, Carl’s Pond in Cumberland, Olney and Barney Ponds in Lincoln, Omega Pond in East Providence, Spectacle Pond in North Providence, and Reynolds Pond in Coventry/West Greenwich. Consistent effort is required each summer, as seeds of the plant can lie dormant in the muck for up to 12 years. Removal of the plants a few days per year at affected waterbodies is essential to stay ahead of this invasive plant, which multiplies exponentially. It is urgent that the growth of this invasive species is culled, and the populations managed, so it does not spread to other areas in the state or into Massachusetts.

First documented in Rhode Island at Belleville Pond in North Kingstown in 2008, invasive water chestnut has crept throughout the state and is currently found in 22 locations. The thorny water chestnut seeds easily attach to waterfowl and wildlife and hitchhike to new locations. One seed can germinate into 15 plants through the growing season in June and early July, and each plant can produce up to 20 seeds by the end of summer, for a total of 300 new seeds. Therefore, it is essential that paddlers and lake enthusiasts learn to identify this plant and immediately report any new sightings not listed on the current distribution map by emailing pictures to Helpful tips for identify the plant are available here.

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