Remarks Of Senator Patrick Leahy On Invasive Species And Lake Champlain

Remarks As Prepared For Delivery At The Leahy Center For Lake Champlain

Here on the shores of our Great Lake Champlain is just about my favorite place on Earth at the peak of summer.  And — looking at the bustle along the waterfront this morning — lots of Vermonters and folks from all over the world agree with me.

Today I want to talk about another serious threat that requires strong steps and immediate action, and that is the encroachment of the spiny water flea.  This invasive species may not yet have reached the Lake, but it has, we know, now reached the threshold of Lake Champlain. 

Here is a picture of the spiny water flea.  Though it’s small, it even looks menacing, almost like a space-alien from a horror movie.  I thank Professor Mary Watzin from the University of Vermont and Professor Doug Facy from St. Michaels College for joining me and they can tell you more about the threat, but from all we know, it seems clear that this zooplankton, is likely to damage the aquatic food web that produces the fantastic diversity of life in the Lake, and that feeds our world-class fishery.  The spiny water flea also can become a nuisance to boaters, fishermen as it attaches to equipment and tangles itself in fishing line.

We must do everything possible to keep the spiny water flea from reaching and infesting Lake Champlain.  Possibly the only way to stop or slow its advance is to “shut the door” by closing some portion of the Champlain Canal.  The experts on Lake Champlain and invasive species have convened at the Lake Champlain Basin Program to assess the problem, and their report is due this week.  If they find that there is any chance that closing part of the Champlain Canal can stop or even slow the spread of this invasive creature, then the New York State Canal Corporation must act quickly to do just that.

The ecological and economic costs of this invasive species entering Lake Champlain are likely to be enormous.  Once the spiny water flea is here, it will be here forever.  The damage will compound over decades.  And it is likely to use Champlain as a springboard, to spread inland to other lakes in Vermont and the Adirondacks.  There is simply no comparison between the scope of these impacts and the localized costs of closing one portion of one canal. 

We have known for years that the Champlain Canal is channeling invasive species into Lake Champlain.  Close to 20 invaders have followed this path ahead of the spiny water flea, and more invaders are sure to follow.  I have long urged and worked for answers to these threats, and I have secured funds and provided them for New York to design and implement invasive species barriers for the canal.   Money that I have directed to this purpose through both the Great Lakes Fishery Commission and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has gone unspent for years – I repeat – for YEARS -- while the New York Canal Corporation has shown no sustained interest in addressing the problem.  There have been occasional meetings, and a letter or two, but no real progress.

Now, with a threat once again aimed from the Canal toward Lake Champlain, the initial response we are hearing reported from New York is that they will not even consider closing the Canal. That is simply not an acceptable answer.   Certainly there have been emergency canal closures before, and under these compelling and urgent circumstances, there can be closures again.

I will trust in the biological findings of the experts on whether closing the canal can stop the spiny water flea.  But if the answer is “yes,” then I am not prepared to accept from New York that canal closure is impossible because of political or legal considerations.

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