Pondweed control plan stirs opposition in Leverett

  • Leverett Pond is shown earlier this month. The Friends of Leverett Pond’s proposal for controlling invasive plant growth at the popular recreation area is getting pushback from residents concerned about the use of chemical treatments on the weeds. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Leverett Pond is shown earlier this month. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 1/26/2022 7:55:53 PM
Modified: 1/26/2022 7:54:35 PM

LEVERETT — Herbicides to control invasive vegetation on Leverett Pond have been deployed since the mid-1990s, and similar chemical treatment is again included in the latest annual management plan submitted to the Conservation Commission.

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

With a decision possibly looming later this month on a notice of intent submitted by the Friends of Leverett Pond, for a five-year order of conditions as an Ecological Restoration Limited Project, the Conservation Commission recently received a letter from residents expressing concern about using chemical treatments that may violate both Town Meeting actions and the community’s values.

“It’s time that Leverett takes a progressive approach to the control of Eurasian milfoil, using modern data and integrated pest management techniques,” the letter states. “This should be done before any other approaches are used, including winter drawdowns and herbicides.”

For the Friends group, made up of people who live along the pond and others who use the site for recreational activities such as ice skating and ice fishing in winter and kayaking in the summer, the ecological restoration permit, put together by SWCA Environmental Consultants of Amherst, has been a strategy for keeping the pond habitat healthy.

“It is our hope the commission will recognize the value in approving all aspects of the management plan including winter drawdown, a non-herbicidal alternative weed management practice that currently is employed on many lakes with milfoil infestation in Massachusetts,” said Tom Hankinson, the group’s president who is also a member of the Select Board.

Hankinson said that lake management, through the notice of intent, serves not only to control the aggressive, invasive aquatic weeds, but constitutes an integrated pest management plan.

“The Friends of Leverett Pond take the stewardship of Leverett Pond seriously and are seeking long-term solutions to provide excellent water quality, and wildlife and fisheries habitat improvements, while fighting an onslaught of invasive plant species invading the pond,” writes Mickey Marcus of SWCA in a letter to the commission.

The commission next meets Monday, when it could render a decision.

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

In a memo he submitted to his colleagues, Neiger questions whether keeping waterfront properties clear of vegetation, so those residents have access for personal use, is appropriate.

“The waterfront landowner 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 among a handful of homeowners who will be getting Amherst municipal water after groundwater was contaminated by pollutants from the dump, taking a step back on the pond management plan is sensible.

“Because this issue is important to so many people and it’s become controversial, it would be better for our community to be able to have a dialogue, transparency and objective scientific reports,” Duffy said.

Duffy also points to the state’s denial of Leverett opting out of mosquito spraying, and a recently identified PFAS hotspot in groundwater in North Leverett, as reasons to use extra care before approving the plans.

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

Other aspects of the management plan for the pond include using a hydrorake to stem the growth of the vegetation that is part of the natural evolution of the pond’s eutrophication, the process by which it becomes progressively enriched with minerals and nutrients. Left unchecked, the pond would continue to fill in and turn into a swamp.

The use of a drawdown, which could impact the private wells at nearby homes, had not been possible until the Friends rebuilt the dam in recent years. That allows the water level to be slowly lowered, possibly exposing up to 30 acres of the pond, and eliminating invasive plants through a winter freeze before the pond refills.

Even with the large amount of pond vegetation, indicators show that the pond is completely healthy and, compared to other similar ponds, its fish are doing better in size and numbers, Neiger said.

“There is no other evidence of fish suffering due to aquatic vegetation,” Neiger said.

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