November 20, 2008

Mussels Make Their Way Into Utah’s Electric Lake

Unwanted zebra mussels have appeared in Utah's Electric Lake, to the surprise of many state wildlife officials who reported on the invasive mussels' presence on Wednesday.

Officials expected the mussels to show up at Lake Powell first, rather than Electric Lake because it's a high-elevation lake with relatively few boaters. Boaters are often blamed for unknowingly carrying mussels into the lake from other bodies of water.

The mussels "showed up in one of the least-expected places," said Larry Dalton, aquatic invasive species coordinator for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. "That's how bewildering this little devil is."

Electric Lake sits above 8,500 feet, was built in the 1970s to provide cooling water for Rocky Mountain Power's Huntington generation plant.

Zebra mussels and their cousins, quagga mussels, were inadvertently introduced into the Great Lakes about 20 years ago. They reproduce and spread rapidly, threatening food sources for fish and clogging machinery and water pipes.

So far, scientists haven't reported finding any infestations of adult mussels. Instead they have only been discovered in their youngest stages under a microscope.

Once established in a body of water, zebra mussels are nearly impossible to get rid of.

"What we know is they're extremely invasive and early warning is best," said Dave Eskelsen, a spokesman for Rocky Mountain Power. "It presents certainly some difficult challenges."

Dalton said the mussels could damage the generation plant and plug up irrigation pipes in the area.

Dalton said some are theorizing that trucks using hoses to suck water from the lake may have inadvertently dumped mussels that were living in leftover water inside the tanks.

"That is, in our view, the most likely pathway," Dalton said. "But we're only making our best guess."

State officials suspect zebra mussels may also be in eight other bodies of water in Utah, including Lake Powell.

If they infest the whole state, it could cost $15 million a year in extra maintenance to keep the state's complex network of water delivery systems working properly, Dalton said.


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