Copper has been used as an aquatic herbicide and algaecide since 1950. Copper compounds for aquatic use are manufactured either as copper sulfate, or as a copper chelate. Both forms contain metallic copper as the active ingredient, but in the chelate forms the copper is combined with other compounds to keep the copper in solution and active in the water longer. Chelated copper is also less toxic to non-target organisms.

Aquatic Use and Considerations

Copper products are primarily used to treat algae but certain formulations will affect some plants, as well. The target species vary by product, so it is important to confirm that the intended target is listed on the label of the product being used.

Copper works by interfering with enzyme production. Results from treatments for algae occur within hours, while the effects of treatment on plants will be evident in about a week. Large-scale algae die-off can deplete oxygen levels in the water quickly, which can be lethal to fish and other aquatic life. If more than a 1/3 of the total water area is covered in algae, treatments should be done in sections, and applied in a pattern that allows fish an escape route to untreated water. Ten to fourteen days are needed between treatments to protect fish and aquatic life.

Copper products will treat blue-green (freefloating) algae and filamentous (mat-forming) algae as well as larger algae species that look like plants, such as Chara spp. and Nitella spp.. In Wisconsin, copper is not typically used to treat aquatic plants, but some are labeled to treat the invasives Eurasian watermilfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum) and curly-leaf pondweed (Potamogeton crispus), as well as the native species coontail (Ceratophyllum demersum), naiads (Najas spp.), elodea (Elodea canadensis), sago pondweed (Stuckenia pectinata) and water celery (Vallisneria americana).

Industrial Vegetation Management Knowledge Base 

Biology and Control of Aquatic Plants  
Copper Compounds Chemical Fact Sheet

Note: Products may not be registered for use in your state or locale. Check to be sure a specific use pattern is approved in your area before use. Check product labeling or your local state agency for more information. Most current product labels are available by visiting the product manufacturers website or at

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