Zebra mussels threaten Kansas water systems
Cities across Kansas are on alert after zebra mussels nearly halted one city's water intake system and continue to threaten other public waterways across the state.
KANSAS CITY, MO, July 16, 2012 -- Cities across Kansas are on alert after zebra mussels nearly halted one city's water intake system and continue to threaten other public waterways across the state.
"Utilities are being caught by surprise," says John Mitchell, director of the wastewater practice at Burns & McDonnell. "Without a plan, agencies are finding themselves in big trouble from these invasive species."
Zebra mussels are small, dark or striped mollusks capable of altering ecosystems and robbing native fisheries of nutrients. The algae feeders attach to hard surfaces such as rocks, boat hulls and water intake pipes and are nearly impossible to remove. The aquatic hitchhikers clog power plants, industrial and public drinking water and are projected to cause billions of dollars in damage during the next 10 years.
In the past six months, Burns & McDonnell has been flooded with calls for helping mitigate the mollusks that are thriving in lakes, reservoirs and public water intake areas from Wichita to Emporia and Council Grove, Kan.
Burns & McDonnell has a specialized team with experience designing and implementing customized plans for zebra mussel removal from waterways and public intake systems.
"Intake areas provide an ideal environment for zebra mussels because they feed off algae and plankton and thrive on the constant flow of the water," said Matt Baker, an environmental engineer in the Burns & McDonnell Water Group. "Before you know it they build up on screens and eventually blind screens altogether."
In Council Grove, zebra mussels formed a 2-inch-thick colony along the walls of the 8-inch pipes that carry water from the lake to the treatment center, causing massive flow issues. The city had to use generators to keep the water pumping, and residents were warned of water restrictions and the possibility of losing water altogether until crews could fix the problem.
"Luckily they were able to take care of it in a timely manner," Baker said.
Female zebra mussels produce more than a million eggs each spawning season. They hatch into microscopic larvae called veligers. As they mature, they grow shells, which are sharp and dangerous to barefooted swimmers. The mollusks got to the United States in ship ballast. They are spread as the water containing larvae flows into another reservoir or transported by boats and other objects.
Zebra mussels have been discovered in numerous Kansas lakes including Perry and Smithville. In Missouri, the mollusks have been found at the Lake of the Ozarks on the Osage River, and in Bull Shoals Lake and Lake Taneycomo in the White River system.
"If you have zebra mussels in your lake, they will eventually be in your water intake system," Baker says. "If they are in a water supply source there should be some kind of initiative in order to begin the process of controlling them. "Even cities without an immediate problem like Council Grove's are taking precautions."