Plan to eradicate pondweed sparks resistance in Leverett

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LEVERETT – Herbicides to control invasive vegetation at Leverett Pond have been used since the mid-1990’s and similar chemical treatment is again included in the most recent annual management plan submitted to the Conservation Commission.

While the plan calls for the continued use of herbicides on 8 acres of the 102-acre body of water, with mechanical weed removal on an additional 4 acres and the option to lower pond levels by 3 feet in winter, some residents are asking more questions about the strategy the has been in use for more than a quarter of a century.

With a possible decision later this month on a memorandum of understanding submitted by the Friends of Leverett Pond for a five-year Ecological Restoration Limited Project, the Conservation Commission recently received a letter from local residents who expressed concern about the use of chemicals Treatments that may violate both town council actions and community values.

“It’s about time Leverett took a progressive approach to Eurasian yarrow control using modern data and integrated pest management techniques,” the letter reads. “This should be done before other approaches are used, including winter declines and herbicides.”

For the Friends Group, made up of people who live by the pond and others who use the site for recreational activities such as ice skating and ice fishing in the winter and kayaking in the summer, the environmental remediation permit, compiled by SWCA Environmental Consultants of Amherst, was a strategy to keep the pond habitat healthy.

“We hope the commission will recognize the value of approving all aspects of the management plan, including winter droop, a non-herbicidal alternative weed control practice currently in use on many yarrow-infested lakes in Massachusetts,” said Tom Hankinson, the group’s president. who is also a member of the Select Board.

Hankinson said the MOU’s lake management isn’t just about controlling the aggressive, invasive aquatic weeds, it’s an integrated pest management plan.

“The Friends of Leverett Pond take the management of Leverett Pond seriously and are looking for long-term solutions to ensure excellent water quality and improve wildlife and fish habitats, while also combating an onslaught of invasive plant species invading the pond” , writes Mickey Marcus SWCA in a letter to the Commission.

The commission meets next Monday when they could make a decision.

Although the commission has been approving similar plans for several years, member Jono Neiger said this time there are more concerns about the practice and how best to monitor the situation.

In a memo he shared with colleagues, Neiger questions the appropriateness of keeping waterfront properties clear of vegetation to allow residents access for personal use.

“The waterfront landowning group, Friends of Leverett Pond, is not the best group to manage the pond,” Neiger wrote. “There is a clear conflict of interest between the desire for clear, open water in front of homes and the larger pond ecology.”

For resident Patricia Duffy, who lives near the former landfill and is one of a handful of homeowners receiving municipal water from Amherst after the groundwater was contaminated by pollutants from the landfill, rolling back the pond management plan makes sense.

“Because this topic is important to so many people and controversial, it would be better for our community to have dialogue, transparency and objective scientific reporting,” Duffy said.

Duffy also points to the state’s denial that Leverett is refraining from mosquito spraying and a recently identified groundwater PFAS hotspot in North Leverett as reasons to exercise extra caution before approving the plans.

“We all want a healthy lake,” Duffy said. “But we all have to be concerned about the long-term effects of pesticides/herbicides, which often contain PFAS, the eternal chemical.”

Other aspects of the pond management plan include the use of a hydro rake to control the growth of vegetation which is part of the natural evolution of the pond’s eutrophication, the process by which it gradually becomes enriched with minerals and nutrients. Left unchecked, the pond would continue to fill and turn into a swamp.

Harnessing a subsidence that could affect private wells in nearby homes was not possible until the friends rebuilt the dam in recent years. This allows the water level to slowly lower, potentially exposing up to 30 acres of the pond and eliminating invasive plants from a winter freeze before the pond fills up again.

Despite the large amount of pond vegetation, indicators show the pond is completely healthy and its fish are performing better in size and number compared to other similar ponds, Neiger said.

“There is no other evidence that fish suffer because of aquatic vegetation,” Neiger said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

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