Prevention the only cure for zebra mussels


Jason Goeckler explains the issues surrounding zebra mussels during the public meeting on Thursday evening sponsored by the Kansas Department of Wildlife & Parks.

Zebra-Mussel.jpg The only way to prevent an exponential infestation of zebra mussels in a lake is to keep them from entering the water in the first place.

That blunt assessment from experts from the Kansas Depart?ment of Wildlife and Parks at a public meeting last Thursday evening at the Lake Hall at Marion County Lake was both a word of frustration and encouragement for the 40 or so people who attended.

It frustrated those concerned about the future of nearby Marion Reservoir, where the foreign-born mollusks were discovered in early August.

It motivated, hopefully, patrons of the county lake to be aggressively vigilant to keep those waters clean of the invaders that have had a negative national economic impact of around $1 billion since their arrival in 1988?costs that are ultimately passed on to consumers.

Jason Goeckler, nuisance aquatic biologist for KDWP, told the gathering that there is no cost-effective strategy at present for limiting the infestation at Marion Reservoir, even though the discovery of the zebra mussels was made at an early stage.

That is a troubling scenario for recreational users at the reservoir, where the sharp-shelled mussels can injure feet along beaches and threaten some species of fish.

It is doubly troubling for the cities of Hillsboro, Marion and Peabody, who use the reservoir as the source of their drinking water. The rapid multiplication of zebra mussels have been known to plug intake valves because they attach themselves to hard surfaces.

Frustration could be heard from at least one person who made repeated calls for additional federal assistance to head off the mussel?s exponential growth at the reservoir.

Goeckler said even if the reservoir had several million dollars to spend on the problem, there is no known strategy at this time for permanently eliminating or even slowing the growth of zebra mussels from an infested lake.

He said one chemical treatment had proven to be temporarily successful in a 12-acre quarry-formed lake in Virginia. But applying a similar treatment at a lake the size of Marion Reser?voir would cost at least $40 million, and the results may not last more than five years.

Noting the inevitability of a zebra mussel infestation at Marion Reservoir, one respondent called KDWP?s five-year program of posting warnings a waste of taxpayer money.

But Goeckler disagreed, saying that anything that delays an infestation provides more time for people to enjoy the benefits of a clean lake, and for researchers to discover an effective strategy for combating zebra mussels when they arrive.

?It?s an inevitable that I?m going to die,? Goeckler said as an analogy. ?But I?m not going to put on a black suit and lay in a box waiting for it to happen. I?m going to take some action. I?m going to work out in the morning, I?m going to eat healthy food and carrots and stuff that I hate so I can live longer.?

Prolonging an infestation of zebra mussels may give researchers enough time to develop a ?silver bullet? to combat it when it arrives, he added.

Goeckler said preventive strategies have proven to be successful when they are aggressively pursued.

He cited the case of Minne?sota, where the infestation of zebra mussels has been essentially restricted to the initial few lakes that were originally infested about 20 years ago. Meanwhile, states that were slow to respond have seen lake infestation continue to spread.

Goeckler said the best use of additional tax dollars right now would be to enhance the department?s educational and enforcement efforts.

?The legislature was addressing this last year and dropped it because they didn?t have the money,? he said. ?But if you as a community would actually talk to (legislators) we could probably see more (funding) than just when there?s a disaster.?

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