Invasive species found in North Tonawanda waterways.

Hydrilla Plants Invade WNY

September 24, 2012 Updated Sep 24, 2012 at 8:52 PM EDT

By Ed Reilly

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September 24, 2012 Updated Sep 24, 2012 at 8:52 PM EDT

NORTH TONAWANDA, N.Y. (WKBW-TV) Hydrilla verticillata is an aquatic plant native to Asia.

It is known among experts as a "viscous" plant that grows in thick mats that kills off fish and other plants.

Now the troublesome plant is threatening Western New York waterways.

A U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist recently discovered that the invasive plant is growing in Tonawanda Creek in North Tonawanda.

Several areas of the country, especially Florida, have seen whole waterways completely overgrown with it, ruining swimming, fishing, and boating.

Concerns locally are that it could also do the same thing, as well as threaten water intakes located along the Niagara River.

Hydrilla is classified as a Noxious Weed by the Federal government and is banned in some parts of the country.

However, it is still popular with aquarium owners who use is it until it overgrows fish tanks.

"Rather than throwing it in the garbage where it is not going to do damage, they throw it in nearby water bodies," said Helen Domske, associate director of the Great Lakes Program at the University of Buffalo.

It is also likely that pieces of hydrilla were transported here on boats that had sailed in infested waters, the closest being the Cayuga Inlet in the Finger Lakes.

Over the next few weeks, researchers from several agencies, including Canada, plan to search local waterways to see how widespread the problem is.

"Because it might have already spread out enough in a large system, like the Niagara River, that we might not be able to do anything to control it, and that would be unfortunate," added Paul McKeown, Natural Resources Supervisor for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Killing the plant is difficult because fragments can drift away and grow independently.

Officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service say herbicides are an option, but a comprehensive plan needs to be worked out before they can be applied.