The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) dubbed them “public enemy number one” on the aquatic nuisance species list. Up in the Great Lakes region, their very presence has led to millions of dollars in expenditures directed towards trying to control their spread. And, since the early 1990s, an Oklahoma task force has kept its eyes on our state’s waters, watching for their presence and educating the public about their impact.
Of course, we are talking about the zebra mussel; a non-indigenous freshwater mollusk that has caused plenty of problems in our nation’s waterways since their arrival in North America over two decades ago. The zebra mussels traveled across the Atlantic in the bilge water of cargo ships that made their way into the Great Lakes. That is a long way from their native homes in Russian waters and the Caspian and Black Seas.
There’s nothing native about them in United States water where they are considered an invasive species and have certainly lived up to their nuisance label since their arrival. The Grand River Dam Authority joined the Oklahoma Zebra Mussel Task Force two decades ago and has been monitoring the waters of the Grand River system and working to inform the public ever since.
The mussels are small; most are only the size of a thumbnail. They have an elongated D-shape shell with a zebra-like pattern of stripes. Adult mussels can grow to 1.5” to 2” in length. With tiny, threadlike filaments they can attach to water intake structures, boat hulls, reefs, buoys, docks and other submerged objects. Add in the facts that they can reproduce very rapidly (a female can lay up to a million eggs in a season) and have not natural predators and the zebra mussel problem becomes clear.
In 2008, the GRDA Ecosystems Management Department partnered with Oklahoma Aquarium at Jenks to produce a permanent display to educate aquarium visitors about zebra mussels. The department has also worked closely with organizations like the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary and the United States Army Corps of Engineers to spread the word to lake users.
GRDA also offers the following tips to help prevent the spread of zebra mussels:
• Boats should not be left in the water for extended periods of time. With regular use, engine heat should keep mussels from colonizing inside most engine parts.
• Always drain the bilge water, live wells and bait buckets.
• Inspect the boat and trailer immediately upon leaving the water.
• Scrape off any mussels found. Do NOT return them to the water.
• If possible, dry the boat and trailer for at least a week before entering another waterway.
• Wash boat parts and accessories that contact the water using hot water (at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit), a ten percent solution of household chlorine bleach or a hot saltwater solution. Do not wash the boat at the ramp where these solutions could pollute the water. Always finish with a clean rinse.
For more information on zebra mussels or to report a possible sighting in GRDA waters, contact the GRDA Ecosystems Management Department at (918) 782 4726.
Headquartered in Vinita, GRDA is Oklahoma’s state-owned electric utility; fully funded by revenues from electric and water sales instead of taxes. GRDA’s low-cost, reliable power touches 75 of 77 counties in the state. At no cost to Oklahoma taxpayers, GRDA also manages 70,000 surface acres of lakes in the state, including Grand Lake, Lake Hudson and the W.R. Holway Reservoir. Today, GRDA’s 500 employees continue to produce the same “power for progress” that has benefited the state for 75 years.
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