Water Chestnut Removed from Sage Creek
by Maryanne Adams

Tim Johnston, a Derby Hill neighbor who lives on the other side of the marsh, has been working on ridding Sage Creek of European water chestnut for the past three years. Tim found out about water chestnut being a problem when one of his friends on the Little Salmon River pointed them out to him in the summer of 2012. He knew of their devastation on the Oswego River from some of the articles published in the Post Standard and other local newspapers.

John DeHollander, district manager of the Oswego County Soil and Water Conservation District, sums up the problem as follows:

The water chestnut plant is an invasive species that, once established, can significantly reduce the quality of the native habitat, impede recreational use of waterways, and interfere with aquatic ecosystems.


Because he is coordinating water chestnut control efforts in Oswego County, DeHollander was happy to hear about our efforts to control it in Sage Creek.

Tim told George Spak about his mission to get rid of the water chestnut in Sage Creek. We discussed giving Tim a helping hand at a Derby Hill meeting in mid-July. Soon after that, George and Dave Fitch joined Tim for a fun time in the creek harvesting heaps of the weed. Not wanting to miss a good time, OAS Board President Paul Richardson and Maryanne Adams joined Tim and George for another water chestnut pull at the end of July. Tim filled his canoe so high that it sank several inches and the others filled two more canoes. After pulling his canoe onto shore, Tim filled a cart with the harvested plants and used an ATV to bring them to a compost pile in the woods.

Why are we bothering to do this? Controlling water chestnuts before they take over an area is crucial because of the prolific nature of the plant. Water chestnut seeds germinate in early spring. Each seed can generate 10 -15 floating rosettes. Each rosette produces 15 – 20 seeds. It is bad enough that a single seed can produce 300 more, but, to make matters worse, the mature nuts that sink to the bottom may still sprout after lying dormant for up to12 years!

Because water chestnuts have no natural enemies here, they are becoming widespread in Central New York. Control measures need to be implemented by people and pulling by hand works only if it is done early. Because this was not done on the Seneca River, a total of 81 acres of water chestnut plants had to be treated with an herbicide.

This is why we are glad that Tim took the initiative here. It is his third summer pulling water chestnut. He estimates that last summer he pulled roughly 25 – 30 cubic yards. This year close to 15 cubic yard of plants have been cleared. Tim’s son, Parker, also helped out by unloading many canoe loads of water chestnut over the past two years.

Tim says that the neighbors have been great. The ATV used to unload the harvest can be noisy but he gets the sense that folks really appreciate the fact that we’re putting in the effort to try to keep the marsh in natural balance. We seem to be winning this battle and, hopefully, there are only 6 – 8 yards of water chestnut left.

You can read more about water chestnut here:

Following our second outing in July, Tim spent another night and a good part of the next Saturday pulling water chestnut plants in Sage Creek. He worked his way upstream and removed the invasive plants all the way to the gun club. He says that on Saturday he gathered the largest load of water chestnut he’s ever gotten into a canoe.

Thanks, Tim, for your hard work and for improving the quality of Sage Creek for all of us.