By Russell Anglin
Invasive zebra and quagga mussels have finally made their way to New Mexico, and rangers with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers warned Arch Hurley Conservancy District members Tuesday that Conchas Lake could easily find itself in Fort Sumner’s shoes.
“To compete against this rapidly-reproducing species, we’re relying on education,” park ranger Kara Hickey said.
According to the state Wildlife Department, the mussels, native to Europe, were first cited in the United States in 1988. A cargo ship likely transported the creatures to the Great Lakes. By the late 1990s, zebra and quagga mussel populations could be found in 23 states and two Canadian provinces.
In January 2008, the mussels were discovered in Colorado’s Pueblo Reservoir, and Fort Sumner Lake has been closed since the end of May when quagga mussels were discovered.
Joe Martinez, maintenance supervisor with the Army Corps of Engineers, said the mussels could pose substantial economic problems to Conchas Lake and those who depend on Conchas water.
“It’ll affect us on the canal itself on our intake structure on the trash rack. They’ll just adhere to the trash rack and little by little it’ll just cover and you’ll have no flow. That’s where it’s going to affect irrigation headwork. For our water intakes on the dam, for the drinking water, it will affect them, too. Hopefully it doesn’t happen. If it does, it’s going to be a lot of labor-intense actions on our part to try to keep everything going,” Martinez said.
Hickey said the mussels commonly travel from one body of water to another by latching on to boats by their byssal threads, threadlike appendages that allow the animals to hold tightly onto surfaces. She said the mussels can stay alive and attached onto boats for weeks above water.
Besides clogging water transportation mechanisms, the tiny mussels can deplete bodies of water of their resources. Zebra and quagga mussels filter water for nutrients, and an adult zebra mussel can filter up to one liter of water per day. Since mussel populations can multiply rapidly, with female mussels laying up to 1 million eggs per year, the animals can strip water sources of nutrients that fish and other aquatic lifeforms depend upon.
Hickey emphasized the need for boaters to examine their boats and equipment thoroughly for mussels before and after they dock their boats. She said boaters should report any mussels they may find on their boats.
Board members discussed how to prevent the mussels from finding their way to Conchas.
“I was wondering, would it be a possible good idea to take some samples upstream on the Canadian and monitor that? We’re already monitoring on a monthly basis the lake. I was wondering if we could catch it upstream, that maybe there would be some … filtering type system,” Arch Hurley President Larry Perkins said.
“The problem is we can’t filter them because they’re microscopic,” Hickey said.
“It could be a really bad problem. If they can filter out the alpha and beta particles from a nuclear reaction, then we can filter out a microscopic mussel … if it started getting bad enough. You’re doing testing now on water. We could always test up there,” Perkins said. “I’m just saying, y’all are doing a good job keeping our lake clean now but there’s so many inputs that you’re going to have to deal with.”
Call 877-786-7267 to report a zebra or quagga mussel finding. For more information on mussls, visit www.wildlife.state.nm.us.