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Zebra mussels continue rampage: Cities seek solutions

Pests found in Marion Reservoir summer 2008

Staff writer

Marion and Hillsboro city councils agreed Thursday to cooperate with a plan to keep zebra mussels in Marion Reservoir from shutting down the cities’ water treatment plants in the future.

An angler discovered the invasive mussels in July 2008 in the reservoir, and Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks officials confirmed their presence.

Wildlife and parks invasive species specialist Jason Goeckler met with the city councils and gave a slideshow presentation about the pests.

The mussels are native to the Black and Caspian seas in Europe and Asia. They were unintentionally brought to the Great Lakes in 1988 and have spread to other bodies of water.

They first were found in Kansas in 2003 at El Dorado. Their presence was confirmed at Winfield City Lake in 2006, Cheney and Perry in 2007, and Lake Afton and Marion Reservoir in 2008.

Zebra mussels are small mollusks that attach to any hard surface. They reproduce quick enough they can cover surfaces with as many as 700,000 mussels per square meter, Goeckler said.

They are a problem for water treatment plants and power plants because they can clog intake pipes and trash screens. Hillsboro and Marion draw their water supplies from Marion Reservoir.

Zebra mussels are filter feeders who dramatically reduce the plankton populations that are the food source for many young fish.

The pests can be very costly to fight. El Dorado spends about $383,000 per year to keep them from shutting down the water treatment plant.

There are two examples of successful eradication of the mussels from lakes in the U.S. Both times chemicals were used to kill them. One proven chemical kills the mussels without harming fish, but applying it at Marion Reservoir would cost about $38 million.

A less expensive alternative would cost about $10 million, but also would kill many fish in the lake, but neither is economical or practical for the reservoir.

“I don’t see zebra mussels leaving this lake,” Goeckler said.

Until a more practical method for eradication is available, the cities will need to find other ways to prevent mussels from hindering the water treatment plants.

There are two basic methods for dealing with mussels, Goeckler said. They can be killed before they enter the system. Another option is periodically killing mussels in the treatment plant and cleaning out the shells.

Both water treatment plants draw water from the same 12-inch pipe exiting the lake. The cities need to find a way to keep mussels from clogging the line.

Hillsboro City Administrator Larry Paine and Marion City Administrator David Mayfield together will explore possible solutions.

Kansas and U.S. laws prohibit possession of live zebra mussels, Goeckler said.

Zebra mussels have not been found at Marion County Park and Lake, Superintendent Steve Hudson said. All boats and bait must be inspected before entering the lake. Violations are punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Hillsboro and Marion city councils met in closed session for 50 minutes for attorney-client privilege. Those in the closed session were Paine, Mayfield, Marion Mayor Mary Olson, Marion City Council members Stacey Collett, Bill Holdeman, Steve Smith, and Gene Winkler, Hillsboro Mayor Delores Dalke, Hillsboro City Council members Bob Watson, Byron McCarty, and Shelby Dirks, Hillsboro water treatment plant director Morgan Marler, Marion economic development director Doug Kjellin, Marion public works superintendent Marty Fredrickson, and Hillsboro and Marion city attorney Dan Baldwin.

Last modified March 19, 2009

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