In the News  April 2012  

April 2012

Invaders Muscled Out
Nancy Gaarder
Omaha World Herald


Lake-draining effort appears to have eradicated the pesky zebra mussel.

          A small army of scientists and gov¬ernment workers may have accomplished the near impossible at Zorinsky Lake: eradicating the invasive and dreaded zebra mussel.

          "Only one U.S. lake, a small Virginia quarry, is known to have eradicated an infestation," said Don Schloesser, an expert with the U.S. Geological Survey's Great Lakes Science Center in Michigan.  "If the Zorinsky lake-draining effort proves successful, it would be 'quite newsy'," Schloesser said.

          But you won't see officials popping Champagne corks, even as Zorinsky reopens Saturday to boating and fishing.  No one dares declare victory, given that the mussel is one of the most aggressive species to invade the U.S.  "I'm not comfortable saying we eradicated it, but we really, really did take a good chunk out of it," said John Hargrave, a biologist with the Army Corps of Engineers, which owns the lake.

          He should know - Hargrave's corps report on the mussel was published this week.  He and others base their cautious optimism on what they found at Zorinsky.

          After lowering the lake 17 feet in December 2010, scientists did detailed inspections at eight sites around the lake.  They found 907 mussels, all in the top 10 feet of the exposed lake bed.  ("In the Great Lakes, 900 mussels can be found in six square inches," Schloesser noted.)  The hope is that when the lake was lowered, the remaining mussels froze to death or dried out.

          But none of the Zorinsky efforts will matter without public diligence.  Boats contaminated with the mussels are a common way zebra mussels, first seen in North America in 1988, are spread.   "I'm almost positive, even if we got every mussel in that lake, they'll reappear," said John Remus, the Corps of Engineers' regional chief who oversees water quality and control in reservoirs.  "Wherever the mussels came from, they'll come again," he said, "particularly if people don't properly clean, drain and dry their boats."

          Nationwide, zebra mussels and other invasive mollusks have caused billions of dollars in damage, studies estimate.  Within a lake, their explosive population growth contributes to declines in fish populations, while their millions of tiny shells clog water pipes and other equipment.

          Despite Zorinsky's close call, the state senator leading Nebraska's fight against the mussel said most people have yet to take the threat seriously.  "We're behind the curve, to say the least," said Sen. Ken Schilz of Ogallala, who sponsored the state's first legislation on the mussel.  His bill, passed this year, gives law enforcement officers the authority to inspect boats and to keep contaminated ones off the water.

          Schilz represents the area around Lake McConaughy and said he's driven by the harm the mussel could cause to public power generation, irrigation and recreation should it spread there and then travel down the Platte River.  "I could tell you I'm scared to death of it, but that doesn't do what we need done," he said.

          "What's missing from his bill," Schilz said, "is the increase in boater registration fees that he proposed to provide the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission the money to add inspectors and develop an emergency response fund."  The fee was expected to generate $310,000 a year, but Schilz nixed it to secure passage.  "People want to bury their heads in the sand," he said. "It concerns me that we haven't thought about how much it would cost if we do run into an infestation."

          "The state has been relying on grants to fund spot checks of boats and to educate the public," said Dave Tunink, assistant director of the Game and Parks fisheries division.  Last year, officials tested more than 40 Nebraska lakes.  "All the tests came back negative," said Kari Decker, coordinator of the Nebraska Invasive Species Program, housed at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.  "We were lucky at Zorinsky," Decker said. "Nebraska is still very vulnerable."

          "While the grant money is helpful," Decker said, "Nebraska needs dedicated revenue to build a defense fund against the mussel.  "Research holds promise that a bacteria native to North America could be used to control populations in infested lakes," she said.  "For us to really be proactive, we'll have to look at getting that funding through," she said.  "If we can keep them out for just a few more years, I think the research will come forward and give us a treatment option."

          Neighboring states such as Colorado and Wyoming have designated funding that allows them to hire summer inspectors for all boats launching onto public waters.
Whether the apparent success at Zorinsky can be repeated at other lakes, especially eastern Nebraska lakes with similar characteristics, is uncertain, according to the corps.

          Draining Zorinsky cost the corps virtually nothing.

          The 12-acre Virginia quarry, by contrast, cost $365,000 to treat with potassium chloride in 2006 - and the chemical costs much more now.

          At the 113-acre Offutt Base Lake, the military spent about $482,000 in 2008 and '09 in an unsuccessful effort to eradicate the mussel.  Copper sulfate crystals were used.

          "The true cost of draining 255-acre Zorinsky," Hargrave said, "came with the fish die-off and lost recreational use.  Game and Parks' willingness to restock the lake helped," he said.
Park users say they are glad to be rid of the stink and the mud.  "Last year was just dreary," said Will Lindgren, a running coach and president of TeamNebraska.  "The smell was rather foul, and the aesthetics matched the bouquet.

          "To see life coming back, to see the birds coming back and to have that natural beauty, it's been a remarkable transformation."



Large Lake Planned for Northeast Nebraska
Algis Laukaitis
Lincoln Journal Star


After a decade of planning, the Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District is about to pull the trigger on a $15 million dam and recreation area near the town of Hubbard.

          "It's going to be the gem of northeast Nebraska," district Assistant General Manager Marlin Petermann said.

          The Pigeon/Jones Flood Control Site No. 15 project will create a 595-acre recreation area and a 228-acre lake off Nebraska 35 southeast of Hubbard in Dakota County.  The master plan calls for RV and primitive camping space, scenic overlooks, picnic areas, recreational and equestrian trails, fishing jetties, wetland and prairie study areas and possibly no-wake boating.

          Contractors toured the site Wednesday in advance of submitting bids, which will be opened by the district's board of directors May 10.  "Hopefully, we can begin construction in June," Petermann said.  The Omaha-based district anticipates a one-year construction period with opening in 2014.

          Petermann said the lake will be the largest in the county and will provide much-needed recreational opportunities for the area.  The nearby Missouri River serves that purpose now.  The project grew out of a management plan for the Pigeon Creek Watershed developed by the NRD in cooperation with the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service and local landowners.  "We had great local support," Petermann said, adding that the district worked with a citizen advisory board, obtaining right-of-way easements on about 40 tracts of land with no condemnation proceedings necessary.  One farmstead had to be relocated, along with a trailer on another tract, and the project will require moving a county road about half a mile south.

          In addition to the lake, the project includes about 20 ponds or smaller grade structures to help control soil erosion and flooding problems in the area.

          The state Natural Resources Commission will contribute about $6.5 million of the $15 million price tag, the Nebraska Environmental Trust about $2.5 million, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission $825,000, Dakota County $300,000, state Department of Environmental Quality $112,500 and the NRD $4.7 million.

          No decision has been made on who will operate the recreation area.


"The Papio NRD Board Board is pleased it will soon be building a new flood control structure that will also provide water based recreation, such as fishing and camping in Dakota County in the northern portion of the NRD," said Rich.

"Protecting your life, protecting your property, protecting your future."

Please Re-Elect RICH TESAR, Papio NRD Director