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Health, Science & Environment

Invasive Mussels Exposed at Lake Powell

Natalie Muth, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources
Quagga mussels (Dreissena rostriformis bugensis) at Lake Mead

  Low water levels in Lake Powell have revealed a much bigger problem with quagga mussels than was previously believed.

The invasive mussels have been spreading through waterways across North America.  They can damage dams and power plants as well as fisheries.  Mark Hadley with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources says the water level in Lake Powell has dropped by about eight feet over the past year, and that’s revealed some huge numbers of the tiny shellfish clinging to exposed rocks.

Hadley tells KUER, “Mussels have been found as far south as Glen Canyon Dam in Arizona and as far north as Bullfrog Marina in Utah.”

Right now, the strategy for controlling the mussels is to prevent their spread by decontaminating boats coming out of Lake Powell, but a researcher in New York discovered a strain of bacteria that can kill the mussels several years ago.

That’s now being marketed as a commercial product called Zequanox.  SarahAnnRackel with Marrone Bio Innovations says it wouldn’t be practical to treat all the water in Lake Powell, but Zequanox could be helpful in a few spots.

Rackel says, “There could be a very specific location where a large percentage of the mussels are the breeding population and where it gets distributed throughout the lake and later grows.”

Though it’s deadly to quagga and closely-related zebra mussels, Rackel says the strain of Pseudomonas fluorescens bacteria poses no risk to humans, fish or other species.  The product has been used on dams, but it isn’t yet licensed for use in open water.

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