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Keeping California Free of Zebra and Quagga Mussels

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Quagga Mussels latched onto a boat propeller | Photo by Debra Hamilton/CA Dept. of Fish & Game

Quagga Mussels latched onto a boat propeller | Photo by Debra Hamilton/CA Dept. of Fish & Game
Chicago in the 90s experienced something quite drastic one summer--thousands of dead fish were washed ashore as a result of the relatively new freshwater critters in town. Zebra and Quagga Mussels had been making there way through the Great Lakes system since the late 1980s and while the end results for a breach goer meant stunningly crystal clear water, the ecosystem was shifted. Come January 17th, 2007, the first of these mussels in California were found in Lake Havasu.

"As prodigious water filterers, they remove substantial amounts of phytoplankton, zooplankton and suspended particulate from the water, which reduces the food sources for zooplankton and small fish, altering the food web," explains the California Department of Fish & Game's website. "With the filtering out of suspended particulates and phytoplankton, water clarity increases allowing sunlight to penetrate the water deeper triggering increased vegetation growth that can affect oxygen levels resulting in fish die offs."

Not only do they kill fish, they can devastate bird populations through toxins they produce and damage or make boats and water supply infrastructure inoperable by attaching themselves prolifically to surfaces. That latter alone could cost the state billions of dollars.

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"It is not a disaster yet, but it could become one," Dana Michaels of Fish & Game told LAist. 20 waterways in the state have had sightings, but none have experienced major ecosystem shifts yet. However, the mussels rapid reproduction rate opens up the potential for these serious environmental and mechanical problems. "Eradication is extremely difficult," said Michaels.

That's why the state is taking precaution, trying to education the public, especially those who frequent freshwater ways. Albeit out of the way from Los Angeles, there will be one of them this Saturday at Canyon Lake in Riverside County. But what happens out there affects everyone down the line. Those divers who discovered the first mussels in California worked for the Metropolitan Water District, the agency that serves water to millions in the region.

The state has set up a webpage full of information on these invasive species here.