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A mat of South American 'water hyacinth' spreads in a canal near Marshall Road. Recent cold weather has killed the plant's growth above the surface, but experts say it will grow and spread again this spring

(News-Ledger photo)

From the News-Ledger, Dec. 1, 2010 (with an update from Dec. 22)

By Steve Marschke
News-Ledger Editor

  An Amazonian invader lurks in at least one West Sacramento waterway.

  The water hyacinth (eichhornia crassipes) forms a floating mat of lush green flower-bearing leaves. It also crowds out other aquatic life, reduces the dissolved oxygen levels in waterways, gets in the way of docks and boats – and spreads like the dickens.

  The plant “grows faster than any known plant, doubling in size every ten days in hot weather,” reports the California Department of Boating & Waterways website.

  It was first imported to the Delta area from South America over a century ago.

  An infestation of water hyacinth can be seen in a canal on Marshall Road at Golden Gate Drive in Southport – although cold weather has cut back the portion of the plant that until recently showed green above the water surface.

  The News-Ledger took photos of the Southport aquatic plant before the cold snap, and showed them to Ellen Dean, curator of the UC Davis Center for Plant Diversity, and to Lars Anderson, who studies exotic and invasive aquatic plants at a U.S. Department of Agriculture facility at UC Davis.

  Both confirmed the floating mats were water hyacinth.

  “It’s been in the Delta certainly since the 1900s,” said Anderson. “It’s a problem only if it’s not managed. The Department of Boating and Waterways has been doing that for about 30 years now.”

  “When it isn’t managed,” he added, “it quickly becomes a problem as it was in the ‘80s. The plant can double in size in four or five days or a week, and take over a navigation channel.”

  A local resident who spotted the Southport infestation said he was worried that the water hyacinth could spread from the canal into other waterways, including the nearby Port of West Sacramento.

The water hyacinth has a foothold in a canal near Golden Gate Drive and Marshall Road in Southport.

(photo by ERIC HARDING, www.ebhar-ding.com)

  During the winter, mats of the plant can break up in high water flows and spread.

  “If we get a freeze, it kills the top part of the plant. But the portion the plant grows from is below the waterline.” So you can count on it coming back mean and green in the spring.

  How do you keep it in check?

  “The Department of Boating and Waterways has looked at several methods including mechanical removal, and they’ve introduced insects that can feed on it. The plants tend to grow faster than the insects can grow in this climate. It’s become a management program.”

  Mechanical elimination has only worked when very small amounts of the plant are present, said Anderson.

  So the state has settled on a program of attacking large stands of water hyacinth with herbicides such as “2, 4-D.”

Close-up of part of a water hyacinth, plucked from the mud next to the canal

(News-Ledger photo)

  Is the Department of Boating and Waterways managing the water hyacinth infestation near Marshall Road – or anywhere else in West Sacramento? Anderson referred that question to the Department of Boating and Waterways, which runs the water hyacinth control program.

  The News-Ledger has contacted the department beginning on Nov. 22. Yesterday, a spokesperson said the department was still working on finding out whether the Southport site or any other  West Sacramento site is in the water hyacinth control program. The newspaper will provide an update when more information is received.

  Ken Ruzich, director of Reclamation District 900, said this patch is one of only a few on the canal and “a lot of times we’ll just go over with a backhoe and dig it out.” That’s simpler than getting a permit to spray, he said.

UPDATE from the Dec. 22, 2010 News-Ledger:

  Two weeks ago, the News-Ledger reported on the “water hyacinth,” an invasive species spotted at a canal in Southport near Marshall Road and Golden Gate Drive.

  The state Department of Boating and Waterways uses pesticides and, in some cases, physical removal techniques to “control” the plant where it is spotted in the Delta. But the department was slow to respond to our inquiries as to whether the West Sacramento infestation was in the control program.

  This week, DBW spokesperson Gloria Sandoval told the News-Ledger she had checked with the leaders of that control program:

  “It looks as though we have never treated or hand-picked in that area,” said Sandoval.

  The News-Ledger provided her with the location of the local water hyacinth population. The plant tends to die back above the water during cold weather, and return to grow and spread vigorously in the spring.

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