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Looking for a few Good Invasive Investigators

Department of Environmental Protection is looking for volunteer invasive investigators, such as the Newtown resident profiled here.

Catrina Morgan is a senior biology major at Western Connecticut State University. Last year, she worked on a project with the university and the Candlewood Lake Authority to study an invasive plant called Eurasion water milfoil, the weed that clogs shoreline waters all around the lake.

Morgan grew up in Newtown, which is not a lake community, but some of her friends lived on the lake and she says she always had an affinity for Candlewood, which made her a good candidate for the Department of Environmental Protection's Volunteer Invasive Investigator Program.

The program is intended to “help educate people on ways to keep our waters clean and prevent the spread of aquatic hitchhikers into the lakes and rivers of Connecticut.”

As a volunteer investigator, Morgan checks for signs of invasive species, collects information about where the boats have been, and what cleaning steps the boat owner took before venturing near Candlewood Lake. Volunteers must have a willingness to work weekend and holiday hours.

Morgan started at Western as a nursing major but soon found she liked the idea of “being outside and working on the world’s health instead of an individual’s health.”

She switched to biology, and is planning to pursue a master’s in an ecology-related field after graduation and an eventual career in some kind of nature-based job, possibly with a focus on invasive species and finding ways to stop them without chemicals.

“I’d rather find the natural balance,” Morgan said.

Zebra mussels have been found in lakes Zoar and Lillinonah, which are dammed portions of the Housatonic River. Water from the Housatonic is pumped into Candlewood during times of low power use.

The lake’s owner, FirstLight Power Resources, then allows water to flow from Candlewood through a generator when more power is needed. Although the pumps from the river to the lake have screens, they are not fine enough to prevent zebra mussel larvae from entering.

But the most common method of zebra mussel infestation, apparently, is via boats that have been transported from mussel-laden waters. That is what Morgan and her fellow volunteers are trying to stop.

“I think the best way to prevent the spread of mussels is educational outreach,” Morgan said. “It would benefit everyone if we can keep them out of the lake.”

She spent part of the Memorial Day weekend at the Danbury boat launch, inspecting every boat. On Saturday, she worked at the Lattin’s Cove launch from 8 a.m. to noon.

If you are as good a person as Catrina Morgan, you can become an Invasive Investigator, too.

The next training will take place on June 18 at the New Fairfield Community Room on Route 37 from 9:30 a.m. to about noon.

DEP staff will teach you how to recognize local invasive species along with how to conduct a voluntary inspection and to collect data.

For information, contact Gwendolynn Flynn of the DEP at (860) 447-4339 or gwendolynn.flynn@ct.gov or Mark Howarth of the Candlewood Lake Authority at (860) 354-6928 or clainfo@earthlink.net.

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