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NOTL going to public with growing phragmites problem

By Penny Coles, Niagara Advance

Phragmites can grow up to 15 feet tall, and very quickly choke any other plant life out of ponds, streams and ditches, causing them to dry up. Neighbours who built their homes around a storm water maintenance pond in St. Davids can no longer see the pond. Postmedia file photo

Phragmites can grow up to 15 feet tall, and very quickly choke any other plant life out of ponds, streams and ditches, causing them to dry up. Neighbours who built their homes around a storm water maintenance pond in St. Davids can no longer see the pond. Postmedia file photo

The town is ready go public with the growing problem of phragmites.

 

Although to some it looks like a decorative grass, weaving its feathery tops gracefully in the wind, experts consider it Canada’s worst invasive plant.

And Niagara-on-the-Lake has the biggest concentration of phragmites in the region of the aggressive weed which can grow to 15 feet high and spread 10 feet a year. It looks similar to bullrushes, takes over drainage ditches and causes irrigation problems for local farmers.

The non-native species, also known as common reed, releases toxins from its long-reaching roots and destroys everything growing nearby, and as it destroys bullrushes around bodies of water, water levels typically drop - there will be little water left in town ditches to use for irrigation where phragmites have taken hold.

The province has begun to look at legislation to eradicate the species, as have some Ontario municipalities.

Last summer town staff, at the request of Coun. Betty Disero, prepared a report on the problem, and this week, will begin presenting their findings to the public.

While the town and region are responsible for controlling phragmites on public drains and ditches, it is also an issue on private property, and residents need to be aware of the problem and what can be done to control it, says Brett Ruck, the irrigation and drainage superintendent for the town.

Students from Niagara College have already begun a mapping project, driving up and down town roads and marking where phragmites exist on both private and public property, says Ruck.

"They're giving us a good picture, a snapshot in time, of how quickly it is growing and what it will take to eradicate it," he said.

A late fall treatment with chemicals on phragmites bordering town ditches as part of a pilot project will also help provide more information.

"The test will be what happens in spring. We'll know whether an early spring application is necessary when we see what growth comes back."

Ruck says he doesn't expect to ever completely rid the town of the weed - he's looking at managing and controlling it.

It will be the same for private property owners - it will be up to them how they choose to control it, with the knowledge that if they don't, it will take over ponds and wetlands and kill whatever wildlife may be in them.

"Other municipalities are taking a much stronger approach, setting a date to get rid of it. We're taking a more processed approached. There is no one, simple quick eradication," says Ruck. "However you approach it, it has to be a process."

Shawn McCauley is the regional assistant director of transportation services, which includes looking after ditches bordering regional roads. He says the region has been aware of the growing problem for about a year and a half, with most of the questions and complaints coming from Niagara-on-the-Lake.

The region is currently using "flail motors" to cut phragmites in the ditches of regional roads - the blades get down to the bottom of the ditch and ground the plant into little pieces, he says. It grows back quickly, and has to be cut at least twice a year, but is prevented from spreading further, he says.

Some ditches, however, are too steep to cut that way, and he's not sold yet on chemical application - he says he's waiting to see what success others have with it before moving in that direction.

Speaking at the workshop in NOTL Friday are two leading experts: Dr Janice Gilbert, a wetland ecologist who has helped other municipalities develop eradication strategies; and a specialist in wet-blade technology, which is one of the methods of eradication, releasing a chemical when mowing roadside ditches.

The workshops are Friday, March 11. The first session is 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., the second from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., in the Simpson Room at the community centre.

Saturday, March 12, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. is an open forum to allow the public to ask questions and get further information, also at the community centre.

For more information contact ruck at 905-468-3061, or check notl.org.

 

 


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