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Mini Monsters "Musseling" into Missouri

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Published on: Aug. 2, 1995

Last revision: Oct. 20, 2010

one thing is sure: if biodiversity is good, zebra mussels are bad.

The mussels also play havoc with our recreational and economic uses of waterways. Beaches littered with dead zebra mussels shells are unfit for bare feet, and the decomposing mussels stink. Oh, do they stink! "They make rotting fish smell like Chanel #5!" according to an often-quoted water company official.

The mussels also encrust docks and bumpers, and large numbers of them can sink buoys or rafts. Layers of them attach like barnacles to the hulls of boats, slowing them down. They can "creep" into and plug the water cooling channels of marine engines, resulting in engine overheating.

Recreational divers may see more as waters clear, but everything of interest on the bottom will be coated with zebra mussels. A Chevrolet Camaro Canadian police retrieved out of northwestern Lake Erie provides an example of how thoroughly they dominate the underwater environment. After only eight months underwater, every part of the car - cloth, glass, metal, plastic - was coated with up to three inches of zebra mussels.

Some fear that such accumulations of mussels on lock chambers and on dams and water control structures could disrupt shipping and power generation on waterways and reservoirs. But, although prodigious numbers of zebra mussels have been found on every lock and dam in the Mississippi River, they haven't as yet caused serious problems.

"We're frequently having to clean or replace underwater probes to computerized water level monitors at Lock and Dam 26 at Alton," research limnologist Andrew Miller, of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Waterways Experimentation Station in Vicksburg said. "But the gears and chamber doors at lock chambers are fairly self-cleaning, and the larger machinery at reservoirs is probably not vulnerable."

Given the predilection zebra mussels have for water pipes, municipal water companies, power plants and other industries that draw water from major rivers or reservoirs may have to take special measures, such as burying their intake pipes or introducing chemicals, to combat zebra mussels.

Both the Corps of Engineers and Union Electric, which own or operate several power generating facilities on Missouri waters, continually monitor their facilities for zebra mussel infestation.

"We're a big water user," Union Electric biologist Frank Putz said, "but if we catch them early, we can control them inside our plants by manipulating water levels, mechanical cleaning, adding chemicals or heating the water. But zebra mussels are going to be uncontrollable in the

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