Decontamination station to protect Conesus Lake from invasive species

In an effort to combat the issue of invasive species in Conesus Lake, the Conesus Lake Association installed a boat decontamination station in Aug. 2016 at the public launch. The boat decontamination station includes a high pressure, hot water boat washer that heats water to 140 degrees farenheint. When the water is pumped into the throat of the engine, the bilge and livewell are sprayed on the outside of the boat for 10 seconds. Then the boat is sterilized and the invasive species are killed, thus preventing water contamination.

One of the invasive species the decontamination station is designed to defend against is hydrilla. Per the New York State Invasive species website, hydrilla is a submersed perennial herb that can grow up to 25 feet long. The CLA is concerned that the hydrilla will infect Conesus’ waters because it has been found in Cayuga Lake and Tonawanda Creek, both of which are located near Conesus Lake.

The decontamination station comes as the third step in a four-step process to prevent the introduction of new invasive species to Conesus Lake. The first step was education, the second step was inspection and the fourth will be regulation.

The first step began in 2012 when funding from the Hobart and William Smith Finger Lakes Institute allowed the CLA to create its Watercraft Steward Program. The stewards’ original focus was to educate boaters on the havoc an invasive specie could wreak on an ecosystem such as Conesus Lake. In addition, the stewards focused on inspecting the boats for traces of invasive species. Until the decontamination station was established, however, there was no surefire way of knowing if a boat was truly clean of invasive species.

The Watercraft Stewards ask each boater where his boat has been in the last two weeks and collect data on tablets. The data shows that in the last year, Conesus Lake was the busiest single launch throughout the Finger Lakes—launching 5,000 boats—and had more than 200 lakes visit, leading to a high percentage of contamination.

CLA director and Project Lead Scott Proctor announced the decontamination station as the last line of defense Conesus Lake has against harmful invasive species. While Proctor is more than happy to keep the lake clean, he does not want the public launch at Conesus to become a boat wash.

“The focus of our stewards is to make sure boats are clean when they arrive and when they leave,” he said. “But our main focus as a whole is to make sure you’re clean for our lake.”

In addition to using the decontamination station, Proctor said CLA also asks boaters to wait until their boats have been dry for five days before using them in the water.

Since starting the program, over 80 percent of boaters launching from Conesus have spoken with the stewards. Many are beginning to follow the Clean, Drain and Dry Initiative. Proctor attributed this snowball effect to the program’s emphasis on outreach and education.

“The first key to defense against invasive species is education,” he said. “Someone who doesn’t even know about invasive species is likely to be the first one to bring it into our lake. We had over 200 lakes visit us last year, and it’s going to take a while before we reach all of them.”

President of Geneseo Crew and international relations and French double major senior Justin Ziobrowski said that when the crew team begins to practice at Conesus Lake, it will look into using the decontamination station.

In the past, the crew team has washed its boats down after regattas with soap and sponges in order to prevent the spread of invasive species. Ziobrowski said he feels that the new high-pressure technology will benefit Conesus Lake.

“It’s supposed to be able to reduce the amount of invasive species in the lake and it’s better for the environment, especially with all the towns around it getting the drinking water from there,” he said. “I think it’s a good initiative.”u

News editor Annie Renaud contributed reporting to this article.