Ding, ding, ding, ding: the start bell for river season rang on Memorial Day and the Connecticut River Watershed Council asks all river users to protect the Connecticut River and its tributaries from exotic plants and animals. Whether you use a powerboat, row, canoe, kayak, wade, swim, fish or sail, all river enthusiasts have an individual responsibility to protect the Connecticut River and its tributaries from the introduction of exotic species.

There are no “fixes” once exotics are in our waters. When exotics establish themselves in a new habitat they propagate more quickly than native species. If these invaders find their new surroundings welcoming, they explode because they do not face their usual predators. In their uncontrolled explosions, exotics deny native species their usual habitat. They also create problems for humans; just ask anyone living on a lake where Eurasian milfoil or water chestnut has taken hold and choked their lake or ask someone responsible for keeping a water intake pipe open in the presence of zebra mussels.

The list of invasives we face continues to grow, so the responsibility to stop their spread becomes ever more important. Lake Champlain is now dealing with the spiny water flea, a small critter that multiplies in profusion and although fish do eat them, they cannot digest them; in fact, small fish have problems even swallowing them. The Connecticut River has not yet seen these pests but all it would take is a clump of them attached to an uncleaned fishing or down rigging line or a live well contaminated with them to start their invasion of our river.

Water Chestnut is an invasive water plant and the patch discovered in the mainstem of the Connecticut River in the Hinsdale, NH could mean trouble for the whole upper river. Volunteers have been working for three years to eradicate this infestation by hand pulling and monitoring the site for re-infestation. The seeds of the plant can take up to twelve years to germinate. Volunteers will be back at it this year.

Zebra mussels were discover in Massachusetts just outside the Connecticut River watershed. The MA response was swift; they closed the boat ramp, closed boat ramps within easy driving distance of the contaminated lake and at the Quabbin Reservoir. Even with that quick response, the odds are good that the mussel will get into the Connecticut River watershed. In NH, the Asian clam may claim another lake this year. Investigative field survey work is underway in a Franconia area lake spurred on by an alert that NH DES received that the clams were in fish stomachs.

This brief discussion does not even address the other aquatic invasive species including Phragmites, Chinese mystery snail, rusty crayfish, curly leaf pondweed, carp, or the freshwater jellyfish.

Care in preventing further spread of these infestations is the only tool we have at our disposal. Act as though every waterbody harbors problem species. Rely on the precautionary principle, be safe not sorry.

It is not hard to protect the river. Just think: Check, Clean, or Dry!

Check:  At the ramp during trailering, thoroughly inspect your boat’s hull, drive unit, trim plates, trolling plates, prop guards, transducers, anchor and anchor rope, and trailer. Inspect all craft, powerboat or canoe and scrape off and throw out any suspected mussels and all waterweeds hanging from boat or trailer. Do not move live bait from one water body to another. Do not dump live bait into the water; the bait may be a non-native species or diseased.

Clean:  Before launching your boat, assume that some exotic was in the last body of water you were in and you are carrying it. You should thoroughly flush the hull, drive unit, live wells, any pumping system, bilge, trailer, bait buckets, and engine cooling water system. Drain all bilge water, live wells, bait buckets and any other water from your boat and equipment at the ramp as you leave a water body. One quick way to clean the exterior is to use a hot hard spray from a do-it-yourself carwash.

Hot water pumped through an engine’s intake is one method of preventing zebra mussel growth inside an engine’s cooling system. Do not use chlorine bleach or other damaging washing solutions in the water or next to the shore. If you are not sure that your water toy is clear of invasives, you should dry it.

Dry:  Dry out all items that can absorb or hold water. If you cannot clean your water toys or tools, boats and trailers, PFDs, water shoes and boots, etc. dry them thoroughly in the sun for up to 5 days before using them in another water body.

CRC hopes all of those who play on the river or its tributaries will be especially careful and protect our river from further invasions by exotics. You enjoy it, so do not ruin it for yourself and others. Remember: be safe not sorry.

David L. Deen is the River Steward for the Connecticut River Watershed Council. CRC is celebrating over 60 years as a protector of the Connecticut River.