By Stuart F. Gruskin, Joe Martens, and Kathy Moser
Millions of New Yorkers do their part to prevent the spread of invasive species — from using local firewood to washing their boats. It’s time for the state to do its part and stop invasive species from spreading through the New York canal system.
Right now, a destructive invasive fish called round goby is poised to enter Lake Champlain from the Hudson River. The state can prevent that before it’s too late. All it would take is to keep one canal lock temporarily closed. If the state fails to do this, the ecology of the lake will be permanently harmed, and the communities, families, and businesses that rely on the lake will pay a huge price.
The state’s canal system is a mighty engineering feat that transformed New York’s economy and culture. 200 years later, however, our needs are different. The “Re-imagine the Canals” initiative is already prompting new canal uses and approaches to tourism and recreation. But what we have not yet seen, and urgently need to see, is a commitment to protect New York’s incredible waters from the scourge of invasive species at the same time that plans advance for a thriving, forward looking canal system.
The state’s canal system artificially connects New York’s lakes and rivers, creating a ‘superhighway’ for the almost 200 invasive species in the Great Lakes to spread first to the Mohawk and Hudson Rivers, and then up to Lake Champlain. This is not news. For decades, study after study has warned that invasive species travel through the canals and wreak havoc on water quality, fisheries, and local economies. We’ve seen this happen with zebra mussels, it’s happening right now with round goby, and scientists tell us that the very destructive Asian carp is waiting on deck.
The detection of round goby in the Hudson River is only the most recent incident and is a dramatic wake up call. Although it’s now too late to protect the Hudson from round goby, there’s still a chance to protect Lake Champlain — but time is running out.
In this case, there is an immediate way to prevent irreparable harm. Over the winter, the canal system is closed and the natural physical barriers among the Great Lakes, Mohawk and Hudson Rivers, and Lake Champlain are restored. When the canal system opens in May, however, those waters will once again be connected. By keeping one guard gate on the 500-plus-mile barge canal, and one lock on the 50-plus-mile Champlain Canal closed, new invasive species will be blocked from using the canal to travel from the Great Lakes into the Mohawk and Hudson Rivers, and from the Hudson into Lake Champlain. These closures would be temporary as permanent solutions that are under consideration are finalized and implemented. Between now and then, however, to ensure that we don’t end up with more destructive species entering our beloved waterways from the Great Lakes, it’s imperative we don’t reopen a superhighway for invasives.
Gov. Kathy Hochul can help ensure a thriving future for both the canal system and New York waters. She has been an advocate for upstate New York, our great natural resources, and a reimagined canal system that honors the past and serves the future. She well understands how harmful invasive species are to the environment and the economy. We’re counting on her to act swiftly and decisively to protect Lake Champlain and the Mohawk and Hudson Rivers from new invasive species before it’s too late.
Editor’s note: This first appeared in the Albany Times Union. Used by Permission.