Councils join to plan for zebra mussel invasion

City leaders and staff from Marion and Hillsboro heard Thursday that there is a silver lining to the gloomy discovery of zebra mussels in Marion Reservoir last summer.

Because the discovery came early in the infestation stage, the two cities have had more time than most cities to prepare for the exponential growth of the invaders that will threaten their water-treatment systems.

That?s the only ?good news? Jason Goeckler, biologist with the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, had to share during a rare joint work session of the two city councils.

Marion and Hillsboro both draw raw water for their treatment plants from Marion Reservoir. Hillsboro also provides treated water for Peabody.

?You do have some time to prepare for this,? Goeckler said. ?It will be a couple of years before shutdown.?

He was referring to the way zebra mussels attach themselves in thick layers to static objects, including intake pipes that draw raw water into pump stations that supply municipal water-treatment plants.

Zebra mussels have been known to clog intake pipes used by cities and energy companies that draw from infested lakes.

In addition, zebra mussels sucked into the system can attach themselves to pipes and equipment anywhere along the treatment process where water moves slower than six feet per second, raising additional maintenance issues for staff.

Goeckler said affected entities across the country collectively spend more than $1 billion each year to control the impact of zebra mussels.

A practical, cost-effective strategy for eliminating zebra mussels from a lake is yet to be found, Goeckler said, though several have been tried.

Chemicals have been the most effective approach so far. In two cases, the use of chemicals has actually eliminated mussels from small lakes. But the cost of applying the strategy to larger lakes is cost prohibitive?$38 million for a lake the size of Marion Reservoir.

Coping strategies for cities fall into two categories, Goeckler said.

A proactive approach attempts to prevent mussels from entering the water-treatment to begin with.

A more reactive approach is to tolerate some attachment within the system and deal with the accumulation mussel shells as necessary.

The proactive approach seemed to be the choice of personnel attending the Thursday meeting.

But the specific strategy Hillsboro and Marion will choose to employ, how much it will cost, and who will pay for it, will need to be determined.

As a first step toward finding a solution, the two councils authorized their respective city administrators, Larry Paine for Hillsboro and David Mayfield for Marion, to work together to develop an initial plan.

In the meantime, the group talked about engineering changes to the intake system housed inside the reservoir dam as a way to kill veligers?the larva stage of a zebra mussel?before they enter the system.

But in addition to engineering such a strategy, Paine said the cities likely will face bureaucratic challenges inherent with working with the owner of the reservoir, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers?for permission to make the changes and the possibility, however remote, of some funding assistance.

Goeckler said so far the Kansas Legislature has been hesitant to designate significant money to help combat the growing zebra-mussel dilemma in the state, but state funding may be the best hope for cities in the long run.

The only other approach is to pass on the cost of fighting zebra mussels directly to customers who use the water the two cities produce.

Hillsboro Mayor Delores Dalke said it will be challenging to sell citizens on the idea of paying significantly more for water?especially if they don?t yet see the evidence of zebra mussels at the reservoir.

?A lot of salesmanship will go with this,? Paine agreed.

His idea was for both cities to display a section of mussel-encrusted water line at city hall to show residents what will happen to their access to treated water if nothing is done.

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