Municipal water plants, power generators, boaters and sportsmen must band together now to make plans to fight a zebra mussel invasion, Assemblyman Francis J. Pordum, D-Blasdell, said Wednesday.
"As as soon as it starts breeding again in the spring it's going to hit here hard," Pordum said. "There's already millions of dollars of damage in the Western Basin of Lake Erie."
Pordum has begun efforts to coordinate what is known through university research, the state Department of Environmental Conservation, public utilities and municipal waterworks to learn what may be coming -- and what might be done to minimize the threat.
The zebra mussel, an eastern European freshwater shellfish, made an appearance in the Great Lakes near Detroit in 1986, brought here in the water ballast of oceangoing ships.
In three years it spread into the Buffalo River and into Lake Ontario, clogging water intakes at industrial plants, municipal water supplies and power stations as far east as Cleveland.
The mussel has been found in Dunkirk, at both the Niagara Mohawk generating plant and the city waterworks, and has been found in the Sturgeon Point intakes of the Erie County Water Authority.
"We have to act now," Pordum said. "We have to act quicker than most bureaucracies can act. We have to get the most bang for our buck."
To do that, Pordum said he met Tuesday with DEC officials to learn what they know and that he is trying to learn what research is being done by universities. He also said he is contacting Western New York's legislative delegation to develop a solid front for action in Albany.
"The thing is here, and it is going to affect every water user," said Robert Lange, the DEC's Great Lakes fisheries chief. "The mussel is going to get into the works."
"And we know there is no open-water control of them, just methods of managing their deleterious effects once they are established."
Lange said he and Pordum agreed to call a meeting of fisheries, the DEC permits section that governs all intake and discharge into the lakes, scientists and utilities to find out who knows what.
"Research should be coordinated, so two people don't work on the same project," Pordum said. That coordination could come from the Great Lakes Research Consortium at the state College of Environmental Science and Forestry at Syracuse.
"There are going to be different impacts for different individuals," Pordum said.
"For example, municipal water plants and power plants will have to keep the mussel from colonizing and clogging their intakes -- which means higher fees somewhere down the line."
"We boaters and fishermen are going to have to change the way we do things, too," Pordum added. "These mussels can latch onto a boat hull and live for days out of the water, so a guy who fishes in Lake Erie and then trailers to Chautauqua Lake could be planting this thing there."
"We are going to have to look at anti-fouling paints, which we never needed here before, and cleaning boat hulls when they are put on the trailer," he added.
At present, chlorine is one way to kill the organism. Heat is another control.
Heating water to 100 degrees Fahrenheit at the forebay of a power plant during a shutdown for regular maintenance has worked, Dutch researcher Henk A. Jenner said at a recent zebra mussel symposium in Rochester.
Of long-range concern is the impact the mussel may have on the ecology of the Great Lakes.
"This is not something we can just throw money at," Pordum said, "especially not in the present fiscal climate. But we can't just sit on this, either. We have to find out what we might start doing now -- while these things are still dormant."