OKLAHOMA CITY — Fisheries biologists from the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation made an all-too-familiar discovery recently. While conducting research on striped bass in the Arkansas River, zebra mussels were found below Zink Dam in Tulsa. With the recent discovery of zebra mussels in Sooner and Skiatook lakes, this makes the third new location for zebra mussels this summer.

Zebra mussels, native to Baltic area of Europe and Asia, were brought to the Great Lakes in ballast water of ocean-going ships in 1986. Zebra mussels have been estimated to cause three billion dollars in economic losses annually. Zebra mussels attach to solid surfaces in large numbers and have clogged water intake pipes six feet in diameter. They have also interfered with shipping by clogging locks and dams. Biologically, zebra mussels filter large volumes of water daily, removing nutrients and plankton that serve as the base of the food chain. Even though zebra mussels have increased water clarity, this has lead to reductions in fish numbers and, in some cases, overabundance of aquatic plants.

Zebra mussels moved down the Mississippi River, most likely with barge traffic, and were discovered in the McClellan-Kerr Navigation System in 1993. Numbers remained low in the Navigation System but after being moved to Oologah Lake, most likely with recreational boat traffic, the abundance has exploded, exceeding historically high levels in the Great Lakes. Swimmers must now wear tennis shoes or risk cuts on their feet when swimming in Oologah.

Recreational boat traffic was also the likely pathway to infestation of El Dorado Lake in Kansas. From there, zebra mussels moved downstream with water releases, entered the Arkansas River, and became established in Kaw in 2004. Mussels continued to move downstream with adult mussels being found in Keystone in 2005.

The recent discovery below Zink Dam verifies continued downstream movement. Oklahoma Gas and Electric pumps water from the Arkansas River to maintain stable water levels in Sooner Lake. This is a likely means of transfer to Sooner. Zebra mussels likely were spread to Skiatook Lake by boaters moving from a lake infested with zebra mussels to Skiatook without taking proper precautions to clean mussels from the boat.

Even though it is likely too late to stop the natural movement of zebra mussels down the Arkansas River, boaters need to take precautions to avoid spreading mussels to lakes not currently infested. Before moving from one lake to another, all boaters should:

• Drain the bilge water, live wells, and bait buckets.

• Inspect the boat and trailer for attached zebra mussels.

• Scrape off any zebra mussels.

• Dry boat and trailer for one week before entering another waterway.

• Wash boat parts and trailer with 140 degree water, a 10 percent chlorine and water solution, or a hot saltwater solution. Do not wash at ramp. Finish with a clean water rinse.

Zebra mussels pose a serious threat to our state’s waters and all citizens need to take an active role in preventing further spread. For more information on zebra mussels, log on to www.protectyourwaters.org or www.100th meridian.org.

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