State grant money will go toward combatting invasive species in Candlewood Lake and other CT waters

Photo of Kendra Baker

Thousands of dollars in state grant money will support several Danbury-area projects designed to reduce the impact of invasive species on local lakes and rivers.

The largest amount in the area will go to the Candlewood Lake Authority to implement a boat-inspection program that has been discussed for years.

“We have money coming into Lake Kenosia, Candlewood Lake and Ball Pond in New Fairfield — all done without taxes,” said state Rep. Ken Gucker, D-Danbury.

The funding is through the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s Aquatic Invasive Species Grant Program, which was made possible by the Connecticut General Assembly’s establishment of the Aquatic Invasive Species Stamp fee in 2019.

The fee applies to all registered boats using Connecticut waters and funds the account from which the grant money derives.

“I’m extremely proud and extremely happy to see this doing the good work it’s supposed to,” Gucker said. “The money was raised to deal with lake and river issues, and DEEP is being a good steward to make sure they get where they need to go.”

The Candlewood Lake Authority will receive about $26,700 to support the new Lake Steward Program, designed to educate boaters on invasive species that threaten the lake bordered by Brookfield, Danbury, New Fairfield, Sherman and New Milford.

This program will offer voluntary boat inspections to check for invasive species, said J. Neil Stalter, the authority’s ecology and environmental education director. The authority has been working for years to implement a program like this.

“CLA Lake Stewards will be posted at some of the public launches around Candlewood Lake on peak boating days during the summer of 2021, offering invasive species education, a few informative keepsakes and inspections to help demonstrate to users how to look for invasive species on their own,” Stalter said in a statement.

Zebra mussels are an invasive species found in Candlewood Lake.

These quickly reproducing mollusks not only steal other species’ resources and “outcompete” organisms essential to the lake’s food chain, but can potentially cover hard surfaces — such as boats and docks — and damage them within a few years, according Stalter.

“They have found a couple zebra mussels in the lake and are trying to keep them from invading,” Gucker said. “So far we’re ahead of the curve, but that doesn’t mean we can stop working.”

Grant money is also going to support research Western Connecticut State University professor Edwin M. Wong is conducting on Candlewood Lake, as well as two other lakes — including Lake Zoar, which is bordered by Newtown, Oxford, Southbury and Monroe.

Wong is receiving $3,225 to support his work identifying and quantifying toxin genes from cyanobacteria — also known as blue-green algae — in the water bodies. Cyanobacteria blooms have become a concern as more research is uncovered about the potential toxicity and dangers they can pose — ranging from skin irritation in people to death in animals.

Cyanobacteria has also become a problem in New Fairfield’s Ball Pond, and the Ball Pond Advisory Committee is receiving around $2,960 in grant money to identify and monitor it.

The pond is not only the source of water for many people’s wells, but provides drinking water for downtown New Fairfield, Gucker said.

The Housatonic Valley Association received $25,500 for the removal of water chestnuts from Danbury’s Lake Kenosia. These invasive plants form “dense mats that displace native species and interfere with recreational activities,” according to the National Invasive Species Information Center.

Friends of the Lake will receive $4,629 for the manual removal of water chestnuts from the Housatonic River cove and mouth of the Still River in New Milford.

Although there’s still a ways to go in protecting Connecticut’s water bodies, Gucker said this first release of Aquatic Invasive Species Grant money is “a great start.”

A total of $360,000 in grant money was awarded to 21 aquatic projects — including $4,629 to Friends of the Lake for the removal of water chestnuts from the Housatonic River cove and mouth of the Still River in New Milford, as well as $4,000 to Southbury Training School for the eradication of water chestnuts in Lake Stibbs.

“This is a great program that helps communities deal with the problem of invasive species, and we hope to continue having success with it,” Gucker said.