They’re on the Move!

They’re on the move and we need your help to stop them! There are lots of invasive species nearby that have not yet reached Cortland County. We want to keep it that way!

The yellow floating heart (Nymphoides peltata) is a perennial, rooted, aquatic invasive plant that resembles water lilies. The stems of this plant can grow up to 2 meters long and lie just below the water surface. Being right below the water surface allows for this plant to branch into smaller plantlets. Their round or heart-shaped floating leaves grow to be anywhere from 3-12 cm in diameter, and are green or yellow-green. The undersides of the leaves can be purple. These plants can produce 2 to 5 bright yellow, five-petaled flowers. This plant typically forms dense patches of vegetation that outcompete and displace native plants. This then creates stagnant, low-oxygen conditions in the water. This plant is now established on Long Island, and in the Hudson Valley.

Brazilian elodea (Egeria densa) is a submerged aquatic plant. It has bright green stems and leaves, and a very leafy appearance. The leaves are linear and grow to be up to 2.5 cm long, and ½ cm wide. These leaves grow in whorls of four to eight leaves. Their stems are cylindrical and grow until they reach the water surface. Once at the water surface, they form dense mats. They have white, three-petaled flowers that grow just above the water surface. Brazilian elodea can be found growing in lakes, rivers, and springs. It is also commonly sold as an aquarium plant. This plant is a threat because dense populations can disrupt water flow, trap sediment, alter water quality, and reduce the diversity of native vegetation.

Hydrilla (Hydrilla verticillata) is a submerged plant that grows in whorls of three to eight. The undersides of hydrilla leaves are spiny. This plant looks very similar to American or Canadian waterweed, which is a common native aquatic plant. The American or Canadian waterweed has smooth leaves that are arranged in whorls of three. Hydrilla is a threat because it spreads quickly and once it is established it forms dense stands. These stands then crowd out native species, and disrupt aquatic habitats. This is also known to clog waterways and restrict water flow. This can then cause damage to water control structures and inhibit recreational activities. This plant is currently found in the counties of: Monroe, Cayuga, Tompkins, Tioga, and Broome.

The spiny waterflea (Bythotrephes longimanus) is a tiny crustacean that is less than 1.25 cm in length. It has a straight, long, sharp, and barbed tail. The spiny waterflea live in freshwater or brackish lakes, and prefer cooler areas of water. These are a threat because few predators can eat them due to their tails, and this can result in exponential waterflea population growth. This waterflea also feeds on native zooplankton, which are vital to the native small crustaceans and fish. In some lakes, the native zooplankton have been completely eliminated from the food chain. The elimination of this has caused a serious decline in native fish populations. In addition to this, they also interfere with fishing. The spines of them catch on fishing line, and this in turn can result in clogged fishing rod eyelets or damaged reel systems. This then prevents fish from being able to be reeled in. The spiny waterflea can currently be found in Monroe county.

Remember to CLEAN, DRAIN, DRY! Stop in at public boat launches this weekend and visit with our boat stewards. Help us spread the word and stop the invasion Cortland County’s waters!

What’s in the Water?

Aquatic invasive species are found throughout Central New York, including Cortland County. Most of these species were transported to our area or released from aquariums. Aquatic invasive species often grow fast and dense, creating a loss of native species and biodiversity.

Rusty crayfish (Orconectes rusticus) are native to the Ohio River Basin. They can grow to be about 10 cm in length. They are dark brown and have rust colored spots on each side of their body. They have larger claws that have black bands on the tips. They inhabit waterways that have clear water and lots of debris to hide under. They are aggressive and reproduce quickly, leading to a decline in native crayfish species.

Curly-leaf pondweed (Potamogeton crispus) is a perennial aquatic plant that is native to Europe, Africa and Australia. This plant has rigid red-green wavy leaves and small red flowers. Curly-leaved pondweed can grow quickly in dense mats. Infestations of this plant can inhibit boating, swimming and fishing. This plant will outcompete native species, cause a critical loss of dissolved oxygen in the water, and its decomposition can lead to harmful algal blooms. This species primarily spreads through water crafts and boating equipment.

Eurasian watermillfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum) is the most common and widely distributed aquatic invasive plant in New York. It is originally from Europe, Africa and Australia. It is a plant with bright green feathery leaves that grow in whorls around the stem. It can grow between 3 and 10 feet in length and is found in ponds and lakes. It grows in dense mats that outcompete and displace native species. These dense mats can also inhibit recreational activities like boating and fishing. This species can spread through fragmentation, meaning that if just a piece of the plant is spread to other bodies of water, it will grow.

Zebra Mussels (Dreissena polymorpha) are freshwater filter feeding mussels native to southern Ukraine and Russia. It can be found in lakes, rivers, reservoirs, streams and ponds. They are shaped like a “D” and will grow up to 4 cm long. They can attach to a variety of substrates including sand, silt, cobbles, plants, concrete and metal. They breed faster than predators can consume them. Since they are filter feeders, they can greatly disrupt the clarity and content of the water, adversely affecting the food chain. They are very sharp and can cut skin when touched. They are spread by boating equipment, watercrafts and live wells transporting them to other bodies of water.

Chinese mystery snails (Cipangopaludina chinensis) are native to east Asia and were introduced into New York waterways in the 1940’s when people were dumping them from their aquariums into the Niagara River. The only known location of these snails in Cortland County is in Melody Lake near Willet. These snails can grow to be 6 cm in size. Their shells are olive green with vertical striping. These snails will outcompete native species and are hosts for parasites that are harmful to humans and waterfowl.

To help prevent the spread of these invasive species, REMEMBER TO CLEAN, DRAIN and DRY. Always inspect your water crafts and equipment before and after use!

Invasive Species Awareness Week 2021

Invasive Species Awareness Week is an annual educational campaign to help stop the spread of non-native plants, animals, and other organisms that cause disruption and adverse effects to the environment, economy or human health. Aquatic invasive species live in the water and can destroy habitat for native aquatic organisms, hinder recreation, and even threaten human health. Aquatic invasives include floating plants, emergent plants, submersed plants, algae, mollusks, reptiles, crustaceans, insects, fish, and amphibians.

Invasive species can easily be spread inadvertently by humans. Some examples are dumping an aquarium into a body of water, walking home with seeds stuck to shoes, and transporting fish between ponds or lakes. Be alert to the methods of transport – a seed, tiny plant fragment, even mud or soil can easily introduce a population of species that could have long-term detrimental impacts.

One key action to help prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species is to CLEAN, DRAIN, and DRY your water crafts and equipment. After exiting a body of water, you should inspect your boat, trailer, and equipment for plants and other aquatic hitchhikers. Then you should drain all standing water, which includes live wells, bilge water, and bait buckets. If found, dispose of all species in a disposal station, or someplace they can dry. Before entering a body of water, make sure there are no species on your watercraft, equipment, or trailer. Additionally, make sure there is no water from a previous waterbody on or in your boat. Look for a boat washing station to help clean your watercraft. If proper decontamination wasn’t performed, you should wait 2 weeks between launching your watercrafts.


Have you seen strange looking algae or “pond scum” floating on your pond or lake? It’s not uncommon for these blooms to appear, especially during the hottest parts of summer. While most algae are harmless to humans, some can be problematic for the surrounding ecosystems, while others can produce toxins.  Blooms that can be harmful to people and animals are commonly referred to as harmful algal blooms (HABs).

Blue-green algae, or “cyanobacteria,” are the group of organisms that can potentially produce harmful toxins. These organisms are among the oldest on the planet. They are common throughout the Unites States and occur in marine waters as well as freshwater. Blue-green algae are actually a type of bacteria but, like plants, they use sunlight to grow.

Algae and cyanobacteria are naturally present in most slow moving streams, lakes, and ponds in small amounts. These organisms are usually invisible to the naked eye until they form dense clusters or blooms.  Certain types can become abundant and form blooms under the right conditions.  These conditions include high nutrient levels, particularly phosphorus and nitrogen, warm temperatures and calm weather.

That’s why blue-green algae are most common in summer. Slow moving water with little turbulence – such as impounded ponds and reservoirs – are at particularly high risk of algal blooms and rapid growth of algae. Algae blooms can float on the surface and be several inches thick or they can lie below the surface of the water. Blooms can disappear from view or move to different parts of a pond or lake.

These algae blooms often have an unpleasant appearance and odor, and can cause a variety of ecological problems. Intense blooms can cause fluctuations in daytime and nighttime water oxygen levels, due to the oxygen produced from photosynthesis during the day and the oxygen consumed during respiration at night. Respiration as well as the decay of the algae, can consume much of the oxygen in the water resulting in dead zones and fish kills. Blooms also block sunlight that feeds plants growing on the bottom of lakes, resulting in the loss of rooted aquatic vegetation, which is valuable fish habitat.

Blue-green algae growth can occur very rapidly. The algae growth can occur below the surface when there is adequate sunlight, and float to the surface on cloudy days or at night, which is why they seem to “appear overnight.”   The blooms may look like a floating carpet, turning the water green.

If the water is visibly discolored in this way, or even looks yellow, brown or red, it could be blue-green algae. It may be so discolored that it has a paint-like appearance or paint like streaks in it. This is likely a blue-green algal bloom and may be a HAB. The bloom can last days or weeks depending on conditions.

Some, but not all blue-green algae can produce toxins that cause health risks to people and animals when they are exposed to them. Those blue-green algae that are known to produce toxins do not always do so, and unfortunately little is known about what triggers it.

Because it is hard to tell a harmful blue-green algae bloom from other algae blooms, it is recommended to avoid contact with any floating rafts, scums, and discolored water. When algae are producing toxins, health effects can occur when water is swallowed, through contact with the skin or when airborne droplets containing toxins are inhaled while swimming or bathing.

Symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, skin or throat irritation, allergic reactions or breathing difficulties. Blue-green algae can also produce toxins that affect the liver and nervous systems when water is consumed in sufficient quantities. If exposure is suspected or symptoms occur, medical attention should be sought.

Waters with confirmed HAB should be used with care. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has an HAB notification page which maps out the locations of current HAB throughout New York State. For more information go here and for the rest of the summer, be watchful and careful.


Yellow Floating Heart is today’s invasive species of concern. This aquatic plant is a perennial invasive species native to Eurasia, and is now established on Long Island and in the Hudson valley. Floating Yellow Heart is named for its floating heart shaped leaves, 1-4” in diameter, that rest on the water’s surface, while attached to a stem rooted in the bottom sediment. It also has a five petaled yellow flower rising above its leaves on a separate stalk, the petals have a distinct straight center panel and ragged edges.

This plant spreads easily with its hairy seeds and through fragmentation. This means any plant part carried into a water body can grow into a new plant and start an entirely new colony. Once established, this plant grows densely, shading out other plants that grow below and making navigation through the water difficult for boaters and swimmers. Yellow Floating Heart colonies also stagnate the water, lowering oxygen levels for fish and lake dwellers and creating ideal habitat for breeding mosquitoes.

To prevent this invasive from making its way to Central New York waters, remember to clean, drain, and dry your boats, including kayaks, canoes, jet skis, and paddle boards. All fishing gear should also be cleaned and dried either with a towel or by sitting in the sun for five days. Because of the nature of this plant any stray root or leaf attached to your gear is enough to transport the species. If you enjoy water recreation in Cortland County daily or occasionally invasive species prevention is something you need to be aware of if we hope to maintain the aquatic ecosystems we all love.

If you want to learn more about how to identify aquatic invasive species and measures to control them in New York State there will be a series of videos released on Paul Smith’s College Adirondack Watershed Institute Youtube channel this week. Every day a new 30 minute video will be release as part of NYS Invasive Species Awareness Week.


Hopefully you are aware that Aquatic Invasive Species are a threat to local water bodies and natural lands. This week is New York State Invasive species awareness week, so there is no better time to learn more than the present. One new species of concern is the Chinese Mystery Snail. It was discovered recently in Melody Lake, located near the town of Willet. They were likely released from aquariums into the Niagara River in the 1940s, but this is the first time they have been found in Cortland County. This is an example of why you should never release exotic pets, including plants, into local waterways. Because of their abundance, their shells litter shorelines and become a nuisance to people who just want to enjoy the lake. This snail is invasive, outcompeting local snails and disrupting aquatic food chains. These invertebrates also carry  parasites that are a threat to fish and waterfowl. There are currently no chemical control options that could kill the snails without harming other lake inhabitants, so prevention is crucial. To stop these snails from traveling to other water bodies in the area, boaters should remember to Clean, Drain, and Dry their water craft. This means cleaning off visible plants and mud, draining live wells, bilge, and bait containers onto dry land away from water, and then allowing the boat and all fishing gear to dry, or use a towel to get remaining water. These steps make sure aquatic invasives like the mystery snails (full sized adults and their tiny larvae) are not surviving transport from one recreation spot to another.  By taking a little extra time before you go out on the water you can prevent these snails from coming to a favorite lake near you. To find out more about how these snails and other tiny aquatic invasive species can be transported, there is a free presentation by Dr. Kim Shultz of SUNY ESF about what her research team found on and in boats in the 2019 season. It is this Friday, June 12th, from 1-2pm. Click here to register.

Invasive Species Awareness Week 2020

Although this summer is looking very different than any of us expected a few months ago, one thing hasn’t changed: the boating and water recreation opportunities in the Finger Lakes region. While social distancing and taking precautions to stop the spread of COVID-19 you can still boat with your family on Little York Lake, fish in the Tioughnioga, and kayak at Tully Lake. While getting outside and spending time with your family or quiet time alone, it is important to remember that something else also hasn’t changed: the threat of invasive species to New York State waters and lands. But the Cortland County Soil and Water Conservation District is still here to help with our Stop the Invasion program. This week, June 7th-13th, is New York State Invasive Species Awareness Week and we want to make sure everyone is informed and prepared so they can have a safe and enjoyable summer season.

Recently the prolific Chinese Mystery Snails were discovered at Melody Lake in the south east corner of Cortland County. These snails out compete native snails, altering the food chain, and carry parasites that affect local fish and waterfowl. They are nearly impossible to get rid of once introduced into a water body, so preventing the spread is key. There is also the Round goby, with its black spotted dorsal fin and suction cup like pelvic fins. This fish, which is not yet in Cortland County, out competes native fish and eats their eggs, so keeping it out of our waters is important for good fishing stock.

Though there are many aquatic invasive species that threaten local waterways the same steps can be used against all of them: Clean, Drain, and Dry. Cleaning your watercraft, from paddle boards and kayaks to pontoon boats and jet skis, and letting all fishing gear and equipment dry before traveling to another waterbody should kill any invasive you may have picked up along the way. Also make sure to never dump bait buckets and live wells filled elsewhere into local water bodies, but empty them on dry land between trips. To help with these efforts SWCD has installed a brand new boat cleaning station near the entrance to Little York Lake. It has a wet vacuum, air blower, and hand tools available so boaters can inspect and clean their craft and trailers before they enter and after they leave the lake. It is free to the public and will be up and running throughout the season. There is also a boat steward on staff, out most weekends talking to boaters, collecting data on what species are here, and helping with inspections. Some species can survive up to thirty days on your boat, so diligence and constant awareness are important. You can do your part by remembering to Clean, Drain, and Dry every  

time you bring your boat to a new location in the county, state, or country.

To help prevent the spread of terrestrial invasive species like weeds and pests it is important to remove mud and plant material from your shoes so bugs, seeds, and plants parts are not brought from one hiking spot to another. For these same reasons camping gear and mountain bikes should also be washed and cleaned off between uses. To help with this there are boot brush stations for public use located at the entrances to many area parks to clean off your boots before and after your walk. There is one at Dwyer Park right near the trail map.

It is an uncertain world, but you can help our community by taking your time preparing for outdoor activities with Clean, Drain, and Dry measures and by cleaning your boots and camping gear. Then you can feel safe knowing you are doing your part to stop the spread of invasive species and protect local waters and lands that are so important to the Central New York and Cortland County way of life, now more than ever.


A riparian forested buffer area was established in Dwyer Memorial Park along a section of Green Lake and its outlet in the Town of Preble. Green Lake feeds into the upper part of Little York Lake which empties directly into the West Branch of the Tioughnioga River. Little York Lake, Green Lake and Goodale Lake are all part of the headwaters of the Tioughnioga River which is a tributary to Chenango River. Green Lake is also part of the Susquehanna River Drainage Basin and the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The property is located over part of the Cortland Homer Preble (C-H-P) sole source aquifer system, a source of public drinking water for over 30,000 residents. Implementation of the .32 acre riparian forested buffer will protect the lake by improving water quality and filtering excess nutrients such as phosphorous and nitrogen. Visit the park today to see all the improvements that have been happening!

STOP the Invasion! Cortland County’s AIS Prevention Program

Keeping cool in Cortland County can be easy with our many lakes and rivers. With the increasing summer temperatures activities like swimming, fishing, and boating in our local waters are on the rise. Imagine this: It is a nice summer day, you take your family out to the lake, the kids are swimming, some of the adults are fishing and everyone is enjoying the sun with a nice picnic. That is until one of the kids starts yelling, running out of the water with milfoil tangled on their legs or worse yet a cut on their foot from a zebra mussel.

Like all bodies of water, Little York Lake, Tully Lake, and the Tioughnioga River are all susceptible to aquatic invasive species (AIS). There have been many programs brought to light to help combat these harmful species. Cortland County Soil and Water Conservation District, Cortland – Onondaga Federation of Kettle Lake Association (C-OFOKLA) and SUNY ESF were awarded a 3-year, $100,000 grant from New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation to help slow and stop the spread of AIS. This turned into the “Stop the Invasion!” initiative.

This initiative, through the Soil and Water Conservation District, has already employed many sub-programs to help stop the spread. Conservation Aides have outreach and education programs to spread awareness in the community; Watercraft stewards sit out at local boat launches around the county to collect data to track the spread via a voluntary inspection of watercraft being launched. The stewards are a personable way to help boaters and anglers prevent AIS from further spreading and to comply with DEC regulations. These regulations state that boaters cannot launch, or transport their watercraft from a launch with any aquatic plant or animal attached to the watercraft or trailer. Boaters must not launch or leave a launch without draining bilge areas, live wells, bait wells and ballast tanks. Our water has a lot to offer to the public; however, AIS have been and will continue to be a threat to any  

activity in these areas, especially without your help.

To follow the regulations, watercraft stewards ask boaters to complete 3 simple steps: Clean, Drain & Dry. When leaving a launch, boaters should always remove all visible plants, animals and “muck” from their boat, trailer and other equipment. Then what is removed should be disposed of in a trash container, on dry land at least 30 feet from shore or in an AIS disposal. It is recommended that you go through a car wash or use a pressure washer to ensure that no invasives hitch a ride to your next launch. Additionally, drain the boat’s bilge, live wells, and any area that holds water, blow out the cooling intake on Jet-Skis and pour water from kayaks and canoes before and after launching to help prevent the spread of AIS. When moving watercraft from one waterbody to another, let the watercraft dry for two weeks between launches to ensure that unseen aquatic invasive species are dried out and no longer able to establish new colonies. Pressure washers and steamers are the best way to remove aquatic invasive species from your boat if you plan on going to different lakes within two weeks of each other.

Here’s what to look out for and where according to the New York State Federation of Lake Associations:

Cincinnatus Lake – Water chestnutSolon Pond – Eurasian watermilfoil
Goodale Lake – Eurasian watermilfoilSong Lake – Zebra mussel
Melody Lake – Eurasian watermilfoilWest Branch Tioughnioga River – Zebra mussel
Otselic River – Asian clamSkaneateles Lake – Eurasian watermilfoil, Curly leafed pondweed
Tully Lake – Eurasian watermilfoil, Starry stonewort, Curly leafed pondweedUpper Little York Lake – Zebra mussel, Eurasian watermilfoil, Variable leaf watermilfoil, Starry stonewort, Curly-leaved pondweed

How to identify them –

Water Chestnut: Triangular leaves with toothed edges, sharp-edged seeds, dangerous to step on and can form dense beds of plant matter.

Eurasian Watermilfoil: 3 to 10 ft. pale pink to reddish brown stems. Feathery leaves occur in whorls. Each leaf has 12-21 leaflet pairs. Commonly confused with native northern watermilfoil has 5-10 leaflet pairs.

Variable Leaf Watermilfoil: Each leaf has 5-14 leaflets. As a stem surfaces its growth pattern changes and becomes a stout emergent flower-spike carrying an entirely different type of leaf. These emergent leaves are stalkless, wedge-shaped, stiff, and pointed, with variably-toothed margins.

Asian Clam: Rounded-triangular shell, light brown with numerous rings on outside of shell. Inside of the shell is light blue or light purple in color.

Starry Stonewort: Long uneven-length gelatinous branches that are angular at each joint. May have one cream colored bulb at the base of each branch cluster.

Curly Leafed Pondweed: Branched and somewhat flattened stems. Reddish-brown oblong leaves, 3 inches long. Leaves are stiff, crinkle and have finely toothed edges.

Zebra Mussel: Shell “D” shaped usually with dark and light colored, zigzag, stripes.

County Wide AIS Program Enters 2nd Year

Summer is finally here, and people are beginning to get out on their favorite waterways and beaches. People from Cortland County especially get to enjoy the aesthetic beauty and many activities that our waterways have to offer. Tully Lake, Little York Lake, and the Tioughnioga River are just a few of the more popular boating, fishing, and swimming areas in the County.

These bodies of water are popular for what they have to offer to the public; however, there are silent invaders that have and will continue to threaten the grandeur of these places. As air and water temperatures rise, aquatic invasive species (AIS) become more prevalent and damaging than ever. These species are non-native to an area, and they have the ability to outcompete many native species. They also reproduce very rapidly which only enhances their ability to take over an area. In a recent article posted by the Department of Environmental Conservation, North Country Assemblyman Billy Jones warns the public of the threat these species pose. “Once an aquatic invasive species takes over; it can have a devastating impact on our lakes, ponds, rivers and other bodies of water and waterways.” The article goes on to say the economists estimate that invasive species cost the U.S. approximately $120 billion per year, and unfortunately they’re still spreading.

In order to combat AIS, Cortland County Soil and Water partnered with Cortland – Onondaga Federation of Kettle Lake Association (C-OFOKLA) to obtain a 3-year, $100,000 grant from the DEC to help stop the spread of aquatic invasives such as Eurasian Water Milfoil, Starry Stonewort, and Hydrilla. “STOP The Invasion”, the program funded by the grant, extends the Finger Lakes Institute’s already successful ‘Watercraft Steward’ program. For the second year, watercraft stewards will soon be stationed at boat launches throughout Cortland County, asking boaters to participate in a voluntary inspection of their watercraft in order to check for AIS before and after launching. The inspection and discussion with the stewards is a means of educating boaters and anglers on preventing the spread of AIS and complying with DEC regulations.

These regulations, which many boaters may be unaware of, state that boaters shall not launch, or transport their watercraft from a launch with any aquatic plant or animal attached to the watercraft or trailer. In addition, boaters must not launch or leave a launch without first draining the bilge areas, livewells, bait wells and ballast tanks of their watercraft.

To comply with these regulations, watercraft stewards will ask boaters to complete 3 simple steps, best summarized as: Clean, Drain & Dry. When leaving a launch, boaters should always remove all visible plants and animals from their boat, trailer, and any other equipment that has been in contact with the water and dispose of them in a trash container or on dry land far enough from the water body that no invasives find their way back to the water. As part of the grant, AIS disposal stations will also be installed at some boat launches. Running your boat through a car wash or pressure washing it at home is also highly recommended to ensure that no invasives hitch a ride to the next launch. Draining the boat’s bilge, live wells, and ballast tanks, as well as blowing out the cooling intake on Jet-Skis and simply pouring water from kayaks and canoes before and after launching will help prevent the spread of AIS.

Finally, when transporting watercraft from one body of water to another, it is recommended to let the watercraft dry for at least five days between launches to ensure that all unseen aquatic invasive species have dried out and can no longer establish new colonies in our water ways. In addition to the watercraft steward aspect of the program, “STOP the Invasion” will also support community outreach and education, school programs, and have an online presence.

With cooperation between watercraft stewards, boaters, and anglers, we can help to prevent the costly spread of AIS and ensure the environmental, economic, and aesthetic security of our water ways in Cortland County.

Chase Davis, Conservation Aide