Boaters asked to beware of transporting zebra mussels

Boat owners who frequent lakes in Arkansas, Missouri or Oklahoma are being asked to cooperate with the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks in preventing the spread of the zebra mussel to Kansas waterways.

The barnacle-sized zebra mussel poses a multi-billion dollar threat to North America’s industrial, agricultural and municipal water supplies, and it could become a costly nuisance for freshwater shipping, boating, fishing and clamming, according to information supplied by the Kansas department.

So far, the mussel has not been spotted in Kansas waters, said Neal Whitaker, the Marion Reservoir park ranger who has been monitoring the situation.

“If they ever got into the lake, it would become a major problem,” Whitaker said. “They are extremely prolific, and they attach themselves to each other and any underwater structure. They cement themselves together permanently.”

That could clog the pipes and valves that supply water to Hillsboro and Marion. For the zebra mussel, peak population is thousands per square foot, covering every inch of solid surface down to 45 feet. Females can produce 100,000 eggs per season. They are capable of smothering native freshwater mussel beds.

Zebra mussels came to the United States in the ballast tanks of ships from Europe. They have spread from the Great Lakes into the Illinois and Mississippi rivers by barge and boat traffic. They have been found as close to Kansas as the Port of Catoosa on the Verdigris River in Oklahoma.

“We currently do not have alerts posted at our boat ramps, but that could change,” Whitaker said.

Since the larvae of zebra mussels do not need to attach themselves to fish or other hosts, they can be spread in a variety of ways, most commonly in the bilge water of boats.

Kansas boaters who visit Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma or any other state where zebra mussels exist can help prevent the spread to Kansas by taking the following protective measures before moving their boats from one body of water to another:

(1) Drain the bilge water, live wells and bait buckets;

(2) Remove any attached vegetation;

(3) Inspect the boat and trailer for attached zebra mussels;

(4) Scrape off any zebra mussels;

(5) Dry boat and trailer for one week before entering another waterway or wash boat parts and trailer with 140-degree water, a 10-percent chlorine and water solution or hot saltwater solution.

Whitaker said Marion Reservoir already has been invaded by a non-native mussel, the Asiatic clam. About the size of a fingernail on a little finger, the clams are prolific breeders. They don’t attach themselves to submerged objects, though.

The Asiatic clam can already be found in nearly every Kansas lake, though they have yet to cause a major problem in city water supplies, Whitaker said.

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