Zebra mussels infest Housatonic River system
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (AP) — The “heartbreak hotels” on the Housatonic River have zebra mussels checking in.
The mussel hotels are a series of square pieces of plywood connected by a central rod. They’re lowered into the water in the early summer and pulled up in the fall. Researchers then count the number of mussels that have attached themselves to the squares.
Rebekah White is a counter, studying mussel numbers in Lake Lillinonah and Lake Zoar. She expects to be busy this fall.
“The ones on Lake Zoar are going to take a while to count,” she said.
This pestilence is not going away.
The Housatonic River system is now in the fifth year, maybe more, of its zebra mussel infestation. In 2009, they were discovered in Laurel Lake in Massachusetts, which drains into the Housatonic. The next year, an environmentalist found them in Lillinonah and Zoar, as well.
The mussels are an invasive species that are native to the Caspian Sea. Tankers probably carried them in their bilges to the United States and dumped that bilge water into the Great Lakes in the 1980s. In the subsequent 30 years, they’ve spread through all the major river systems in the eastern United States. Nearby, they’re in Lake Champlain, Lake George, the Hudson River and Twin Lakes in Connecticut’s Northwest Corner.
They multiply by the millions. Once established, they drive out native species and profoundly alter water quality -- with millions of mussels filtering out the water of zooplankton, the water gets unnaturally clear. That, in turn, alters the types of fish that can survive in that water.
The hope, at first, was that Lillinonah and Zoar, which are manmade lakes created by hydroelectric dams on the Housatonic, might prove inhospitable for zebra mussels to multiply. That hope is gone.
White, who began work on zebra mussels while studying at Western Connecticut State University and is now a member of the executive board at the Friends of the Lake, the advocacy group for Lillinonah, said her initial findings this year give no reason to be cheerful, especially about Lake Zoar.
“Lake Zoar is going to be bad,” she said. In some of the zebra mussel hotels, she said, she expects the numbers to double over what she found in 2013.
In Lillinonah, White said, she’s found lower numbers in some spots this year, higher numbers in others.
White also found a few zebra mussels along the Shepaug River, which feeds into Lillinonah.
If there is any bright spot in all this, it is that Candlewood Lake -- the largest of the three created by hydroelectric plants -- may have dodged the bullet again in 2014.
“So far, nothing,” said Larry Marsicano, executive director of the Candlewood Lake Authority. “We have people checking their docks and boats. No one has reported anything.” During the lake’s draw-down this winter, people will check again.
The lake authority had hoped to run a trial program this year that would have injected carbon dioxide into the brook running from Laurel Lake in Massachusetts into the Housatonic. There’s hope that treatment could kill the mussels in their nymphal stage, and thus check their spread down river.
Because of liability issues, Marsicano said, the project didn’t start this year. He’s hoping it can begin in 2015. It wouldn’t be a silver bullet. But it might spare Candlewood and other uninvaded places along the Housatonic from zebra mussel heartbreak.
“The reality is, there are not a lot of other tools out there,” he said.