WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced that Rhode Island is receiving federal funding to help combat a newly identified invasive species that has taken root in the 260-acre Indian Lake, located in South Kingstown.

U.S. Senator Jack Reed hailed the announcement as a critical investment in shoring up Rhode Island’s defenses against plants that could wreak havoc on the state’s lakes, ponds, and waterways.

This FWS funding is from the Rapid Response Fund, which received $4 million over four years through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that Reed helped pass. The $133,000 in federal funding for Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) will help the state respond to the first detection of the invasive aquatic weed, Hydrilla verticilatta – also known as water thyme or Indian star-vine.

“I’m grateful to RIDEM for being on the forefront of protecting Rhode Island’s lakes and ponds from destructive invasive plants that can threaten favorite fishing spots and swimming holes, and force out fish and wildlife that rely on native aquatic plants for food and shelter,” said Senator Reed, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee. “This funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will help RIDEM act quickly to root out hydrilla from Indian Lake and help inform the public about the dangers of this invasive species and how best to avoid the spread to other Ocean State lakes and ponds.”

“DEM continues to move aggressively to manage and control the spread of hydrilla to other lakes and ponds throughout Rhode Island, which is nuisance to anglers, boaters, and swimmers and affects freshwater pond wildlife habitats,” said DEM Director Terry Gray. “We’re grateful for this federal funding through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which will support our efforts to rapidly respond and provide technical assistance to local efforts managing the threat of this aggressively growing invasive plant. DEM remains committed to educating boaters that they are the first line of defense helping prevent the spread of hydrilla by ensuring that their recreational equipment is clean of any plant fragments.”

If left unmanaged, the spread of hydrilla can result in significant changes to aquatic ecosystems that threaten the habitats of fish and wildlife by reducing dissolved oxygen levels in the water. According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, hydrilla has been coined the “world’s worst invasive aquatic plant.” The plant can grow as fast as 16 feet in a single day and as tall as 25 feet, forming dense mats with its branches that can be hazardous to swimmers and lead to reduced fishing, recreation, and local tourism.

RIDEM first discovered hydrilla in Indian Lake in the summer of 2023. The invasive plant can spread when boats that have been in contact with hydrilla are launched into other lakes, ponds, and waterbodies. Nearby states like Connecticut and New York have been battling hydrilla since around 2008.

This project will be Rhode Island’s first early detection rapid response effort to address a new invasive plant with herbicides and will serve as a model for planning future responses.