Correction: Lake Lonely And The European Water Chestnut


Well, your dedicated blogger has been forced by his own folly to eat crow once again and this dish was no improvement over my last repast.

Lake Lonely is a precious gem.  This is a rather long post but it is worth time to read it through.  The most important part of this post is the section written by Blue R. Neils at the bottom of the post.  I urge the readers of this blog to take the time to read it.  While the issues are technical, Mr. Neils does a great job at making them understandable for those of us who struggled in our science courses.

Several days following my posting on Lake Lonely I received a call from T. Zealie Van Raalte.  Mr. Van Raalte is the President of the Lake Lonely Improvement Association (LLIA).

He explained to me that the area that appears to look like an algae bloom is in fact a major infestation of water chestnuts.

Here is some background from the Cornell University Cooperative Extension website on this troublesome plant:

Rendering Of European Water Chestnut

Water Chestnuts

If a shoreline property owner in New York or the Northeast complains to you about their water chestnut problem, don’t think they are talking about Chinese takeout. The European water chestnut (scientific name Trapa natans, or T. natans), an invasive aquatic plant released inadvertently into waters of the Northeast in the late 1800s, is slowly but inexorably spreading throughout New York State, clogging waterways, lakes and ponds and altering aquatic habitats.

It must be pointed out that this plant species is not the same as the water chestnut which can be purchased in cans at the supermarket. The fruits of T. natans, however, are used as a source of food in Asia and have been utilized for their medicinal (and claimed) magical properties…

Ecological Impact

Water chestnut has become a significant environmental nuisance throughout much of its range, particularly in the Hudson, Connecticut and Potomac Rivers, and in Lake Champlain. The plant can form nearly impenetrable floating mats of vegetation. These mats create a hazard for boaters and other water recreators. The density of the mats can severely limit light penetration into the water and reduce or eliminate the growth of native aquatic plants beneath the canopy. The reduced plant growth combined with the decomposition of the water chestnut plants which die back each year can result in reduced levels of dissolved oxygen in the water, impact other aquatic organisms, and potentially lead to fish kills. The rapid and abundant growth of water chestnut can also out-compete both submerged and emergent native aquatic vegetation. [my emphasis added]

The bad news is how hard it is to control this weed.  More from the website:

Large infestations usually require the use of mechanical harvesters or the application of aquatic herbicides. Regardless of treatment type, it should ideally take place before the fruit has ripened and dropped to the bottom forming a long-term seed bank. Because of the potential of unintentional spread of floating plant parts offsite, mechanical harvesting should be undertaken only by trained and certified equipment operators. Since water chestnut overwinters entirely by seeds that may remain viable in the sediment for up to 12 years, repeated annual control is critical to deplete the seed bank. Treatment generally is needed for five to twelve years to ensure complete eradication and can be very expensive… [my emphasis added]

The full and very interesting article can be found at

Mr. Van Raalte indicated that there is an issue with algae growth but it is being controlled by applying a chemical that utilizes copper sulfate to retard the algae growth.

To the credit of Saratoga National Golf Course, they donated a harvester to help control the water chestnuts and have contributed to the cost of the eradication.  As it happens, Tom Newkirk, one of the principle owners of Saratoga National Golf Course is a neighbor of Mr. Van Raalte and both live on the shores of Lake Lonely.

PLAN has also been a partner in trying to protect the lake.  At one point they recruited volunteers to hand pull the weeds (what a job that must have been).

The War On Weeds

SNGC Harvester In Action

Mr. Van Raalte emailed the following status report:

The Harvester was out in the lake starting last week and has been operating as you noted this week. It’s an extremely slow process. On a good day about 14 loads of water chestnuts can be “harvested”. It was necessary to wait until the plants grew to the point that the harvester equipment could get a good grip to pull out the plants. In addition, the fact that the lake’s water level is relatively low makes it difficult to operate in parts of the impacted area. This year marks the third year of operating the SNGC’s harvester (in addition to the previous two years of hiring a third party with their equipment) and we are optimistic that progress in our fight to control/eliminate the proliferation of water chestnuts in Lake Lonely is working.

The War On Algae

This is from Mr. Van Raalte on the algae situation:

Copper Sulfate has long been recognized by the DEC as an effective aquatic herbicide to control algae bloom. The pesticide product must be registered and accepted by NYS as per label indications. I believe that it was initially recommended by our Certified Pesticide Licensed Applicator although the initial decision predates my involvement.

The Lake Lonely improvement has applied and been granted an Algicide Employment Permit from the DEC for a series of permits valid for five year periods(renewal yearly) for at least the last 15 years years. The permit requires that a Certified Pesticide Applicator must perform the treatment and that proper notice be given to the riparian owners.

In another email from Mr. Van Raalte he offered the following:

With the warmer weather we begin to see visible signs of algae bloom in various scattered locations. In fact this year I received calls from neighbor’s in early March as to their concerns for algae bloom along their shorelines. This was unusual for that time of the year but likely due to our mild winter. I seem to recall that it was also reported that Loughberry lake had experienced algae bloom as well.

It is unclear what the source of the algae problem is.  Mr. Van Raalte and I both agreed that Lake Lonely would benefit from a thoughtful water quality testing program to monitor both Saratoga National Golf Course and the outflow from Spring Brook which contains the runoff from the City of Saratoga Springs.

Still as the piece below by Blue R. Neils indicates, the problem of algae may have to do with the historical abuse of this body of water going way back in the history of our city when issues of water quality were simply not on people’s radar.

A More Detailed History And Review Of Lake Lonely

One of the readers of my blog directed me to Blue R. Neils.  Mr. Neils is the program director for the Intermunicipal Stormwater Management Program and chairs the Saratoga County Water Quality Coordinating Committee.  All of this is part of our county’s Cooperative Extension program.

It is impossible to overstate the great people who work at our Cooperative Extension program and the work that they do.  These people’s commitment to service represents the highest standards in the public sector.  Bill Schwerd, the current director, is both a caring individual and an excellent manager.  I am going to exploit my role as blogger to also note that the late Al Lounsbury, who preceded Bill was the finest public official I had the pleasure to work with during the sixteen years I was the head of the Saratoga County EOC.

In that tradition, Mr. Neils took the time to write this terrific piece on the lake:


OK…now I think I understand the situation better. Thank you for the link…and the post RE: Lake Lonely’s water quality and the Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS). I am glad to see some recognition of the issue. I made contact with Zealie VanRaalte –President of the Lake Lonely Owners Association (LLOA)- in August of 2014. Myself, Zealie, and Alan Richer (President of the Saratoga Lake Assoc./SLA) met to discuss what you (erroneously, I’m afraid) deemed an algal bloom in Lake Lonely (LL), but (as you now know) in reality is a “patch” of Water Chestnut. For my part, I have mapped the extent of the bed w/ a GPS in hopes of tracking the efficacy of the controls through time.

Water Chestnut (Trapa natans) is an AIS originally from Europe, Asia and Africa. The means of its introduction to the continental U.S. is not precisely known but the first documented ID of the plant was made in MA in 1859. Currently, T. natans has been found as far away as Arizona, but, the largest impact-area of the species is still here in the East…with the Hudson R. Basins (Upper, where we live + Lower; more so the Lower) being one of the most highly-impacted. The National Park Service (NPS) has a good article with the highlights of the species here: and there is a more in-depth article by my organization (Cornell University and Sea Grant), more focused on T. natans impact upon New York State here:

At this point, its distribution is being accelerated by human behavior, like many AIS – it can be spread by watercraft. To wit, an unsuspecting vessel/boater (commercial or recreational) picks up a portion/s of an AIS in one waterbody (lake or pond) or river segment and then travels to another waterbody or river segment where it is redeposited, typically occurring because the owner did not follow 3 simple steps that ALL boaters should follow after boating in a waterbody or river with AIS present…

1) clean the vessel (trailer, hull, bilge, wells, etc.) completely;

2) drain the vessel (hull, bilge, wells) completely; and

3) dry the vessel (and trailer) completely…before the next put-in or voyage.

Zealie and the Lake Lonely Owners Association (LLOA) have been working with Saratoga PLAN (Preserving Land and Nature) and the Saratoga National Golf Course (SNGC) to do both manual and mechanical “pulls” of the Lake Lonely Water Chestnut in an effort to control the plant. Saratoga PLAN has organized/sponsored volunteers to conduct manual “pulls” of the noxious weed…this involves folks (volunteers) wading into the affected area and literally pulling the plants out of the lake-bottom. And, the LLOA has also secured the use of the SNGC’s small mini-harvester –very similar to the large weed harvesters used by the Saratoga Lake Protection and Improvement District (SLPID) to harvest Eurasian Milfoil in Saratoga Lake, only about ½ the size – to also, mechanically, harvest the WC that is dominating the northwestern “bay” of Lake Lonely…as you rightly point out in the aerial images. In fact, as I drove out and around LL yesterday, before returning your call, the mini-harvester was indeed out there on LL “mowing” the WC bed.

So far as anyone knows the only effective “control” of the species is this method…physical removal of the plants. Water Chestnut is an annual plant, meaning it propagates by seed only, so pulling the plants before the seeds can mature will cut the life-cycle of the plant, generationally. But there are some difficulties there as well.  The “harvesting” of the WC must be complete –meaning 100% of each plant has to be removed for total control/extirpation. It is critical that, when harvesting the plants, all of the plant and root be removed and captured so that no “rosettes” remain as each rosette can produce up to 20 seeds. Also, the timing of harvests is crucial as well. Plants must be pulled before August, when the mature seeds drop from the plant. The WC’s seed itself also presents a significant challenge too…number one, it is armored – meaning it has an extremely tough skin and is literally armed with spikes; number two, the seeds themselves can lay dormant, but 100% viable, for over a decade awaiting a time when conditions for germination are right/proper/suitable; number three, the rosettes with seeds “aboard” can float…sometimes vast distances, riding the dominant currents or, as has also been observed, entangled in the plumage of migratory waterfowl.

I would also like to share that, when the seeds are brown-black and floating on the water’s surface, they are no longer viable, meaning those seeds will not form new plants. However, they can be a personal hazard, if you happen to like barefoot walks at the water’s edge and don’t see them. The hardened “nut-like” nature of the seed, and its 4 prominent spines have been known to cause very painful injuries to those unfortunate souls (soles?) that happen upon them.

Now, I recall that you’d mentioned the local anglers complaining of the decline of LL as a fishery, in recent years.  The WC may play a role in that decline. Read the article (link) above…but, WC prefers nutrient-rich (nitrogen and/or phosphorus; more on this below) freshwater bodies and is notoriously noxious for 2 reasons:

One, it has a terrible habit of forming very dense, floating “mats” of foliage, blocking nearly all the sunlight’s penetration into the water column. This has the direct, anti-competitive, negative effect on the native species found in the area of the WC bed because they (natives) are adapted for a site where sunlight is readily available. And, as the aquatic insects, animals and birds that rely on those native plants for browse/food or use them for cover/habitat are then robbed of either or both… the result is a reduction of Lake Lonely’s suitability as habitat for those species and the survivability of those species in that habitat.

Two, it ALSO has the really nasty habit of significantly reducing the dissolved oxygen (DO) of the water which, likewise, has a significant impact on the native freshwater flora and fauna; further reducing LL’s suitability and the survivability of these species (plants, insects, fish, etc.). In our part of the world most freshwater bodies are rich in DO and so the native species have adapted to that condition. Significant (or even sometimes relatively small) reductions in DO can have immediate and (sometimes) ever-lasting reductions or outright eliminations of certain species from waterbodies that were once rich in DO.

And now for the last bit of information I can/will impart to you in this email…the “nutrient rich” thing. Once upon a time, Spring Run (no “Brook”, fyi) was essentially the open sewer of the City (then Village) of Saratoga Springs. Meaning all plumbed sanitary waste water and stormwater were discharged directly to Spring Run. Through time though this was corrected (a bit) when the City constructed a Combined Sewer (sanitary and storm), but, Spring Run was retained as the Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO). So, when it would rain and the Combined Sewer became overwhelmed by the volumes of sanitary waste- and storm-waters flowing into/through the pipes, the excess (100% untreated) would be discharged to Spring Run. Then, most-recently, the City, under an Order from NYSDEC, separated the Combined Sewer into its component-parts, to counter the decline in the water quality of Saratoga Lake, so that the Sanitary Waste water flowed to the treatment plant in Mechanicville and the Stormwater flowed to Spring Run and the other natural waterways and wetlands found throughout the City.  And so, because for so many years untreated sanitary waste water and untreated stormwater flowed into Spring Run…and eventually Lake Lonely…LL and its primary tributaries (Spring Run and Bog Meadow Brook) have been listed as “Impaired” by the NYSDEC, meaning that the waterbodies can no longer support their primary designated use (in LL’s case as a Class A waterbody, suitable for primary, secondary contact/recreation, as a fishery, and (most importantly) as a source of drinking water. The pollutant/s causing the impairment, you ask? Phosphorus (that’s the nutrient-rich nutrient), Oxygen Demand (low DO), and Pathogens (bacteria; E. coli, fecal coliform, etc.). You can find the latest official (2014) NYSDEC 303(d) List of Impaired Waters here: 2016 is also out, but, not finalized/officially adopted.

These days sanitary/urban waste-water/sewers have been removed as causal, on that List, because of the full execution of the Combined Sewer Separation…now the impairments’ source is listed as Municipal Stormwater/Urban Runoff, but, the imprint of over a century of using Lake Lonely and Spring Run as a cesspool has not entirely vanished.  Hey, we live and (hopefully) we learn as a species, why/when/how not to crap in our own yard…eventually. And so, that is the focus of the City’s current efforts, aided in part by my office/program…to manage the urban runoff/stormwater to reduce pollutants found therein to the maximum extent practicable. To read more about SW as an issue go to: that is our program’s website…it is a little out of date, but all of the information is still accurate and true.

OK…I think I’ve covered enough ground/said enough for now. If you have any questions or wish to speak more on the topic of Lake Lonely or AIS (sadly, T. natans is only 1 among dozens of AIS our waters are effected by) or the Stormwater issue or water quality issues in Saratoga County I’d be happy to do so, any time. Thanks again for reaching out, John.

Best regards,


  1. I am Cc’ing Alan Richer, Zealie V, the Saratoga County Water Quality Coordinating Committee, and Laurel Gailor (CCE/PRISM Regional Coordinator) in the interests of full disclosure and engagement. BRN

Blue R. Neils, CPESC, CPMSM I~SWM Program Coordinator Saratoga County/Cornell Cooperative Extension Intermunicipal Stormwater Management Program

Chair, Saratoga County Water Quality Coordinating Committee 50 West High Street Ballston Spa, New York 12020 518-885-8995 ext.224 518-885-9078 fax Building strong vibrant New York Communities

According to Mr. Van Raalte, overall, Lake Lonely is currently in pretty good shape.  One of the members of his group submitted a water sample to Penn State with the following results.

Water Quality Results - Lake Lonely - June 2015-1

As further proof of the success of LLIA in managing the lake he furnished me with this picture of one of his sons holding a fish called a pike (toothy critters).

Mr. Van Raalte’s son with casual aquaintance


Water is a precious and finite resource. Wise stewardship of this resource can be a complicated issue. Lake Lonely is fortunate to have the oversight of both the public sector and private individuals to address  the challenges of keeping this body of water healthy.


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