Thousands of potentially dangerous zebra mussels have infiltrated the Niagara Power Project, and project managers opened two new chlorine treatment systems this week to try to control them.
John Malinchock, environmental supervisor for the New York Power Authority at the Niagara Project, estimated Wednesday that 50,000 to 100,000 zebra mussels already have found their way into the project "and we expect more of them to come in waves throughout the summer."
An emergency treatment system was rushed into service Monday at the project's Robert Moses Generating Station, and another was turned on Tuesday at the Lewiston Pump-Generating Station, Malinchock said.
Chlorination of the water in some parts of the Niagara Project is considered a short-term measure to control the zebra mussels for the next one to five years, while a permanent solution is being sought, he added.
If left unchecked, zebra mussels can plug up water intakes, make beaches unfit for swimming, foul the hulls and engines of boats and create a bad taste in drinking water. Ultimately, they could close down hydroelectric generating stations and water-treatment plants.
"Chlorination is an effective method of control," Malinchock told about 50 people at a Sea View lecture Wednesday at the Aquarium of Niagara Falls.
Zebra mussels are small bivalves, somewhat like clams or oysters. A mature female produces 30,000 to 40,000 eggs a year, and the young reach maturity in about six months. They attach themselves to virtually any kind of surface, multiplying rapidly and building up colonies that can clog pipes, damage machinery and pollute beaches.
Malinchock said the animals are native to the Black and Caspian seas and are widespread in European waters. They were unknown in North America until June 1986, when they were discovered in Lake St. Clair, believed to have been brought there in the ballast of a ship.
From Lake St. Clair, they have spread quickly through Lake Erie and into the Niagara River.
They were discovered at the Niagara Power Project about two months ago, and the staff rushed the new chlorine treatment systems into service to try to cope with them.
Malinchock said the treatment systems were operating under 30-day emergency permits from the state while awaiting permanent environmental permits. He said the chlorination would continue daily from June through October of each year "for as long as the problem exists."
Since the chlorination remains within the Power Project, it is not expected to affect fishing at the public piers in the Niagara River gorge nor elsewhere in the lower Niagara River and Lake Ontario.
Tracing the migration of the zebra mussels, Malinchock said they were discovered last November in Lake Erie at Dunkirk, last December along the Grand Island shore line in the Niagara River, last January at the Niagara Falls water intake and in April at the Power Project. He said an "onslaught" of zebra mussel larvae began here about two weeks ago.
The mussels found at the Power Project were about 18 months old, he said, indicating that they may have been there for some time before they were detected. The normal life span for zebra mussels is 3 1/2 to 5 years.
Malinchock suggested that power boaters flush their cooling water systems occasionally with chlorine solutions to prevent fouling, and that hulls be washed with a similar solution to remove the pests.
Larvae can survive for up to 14 days out of water, making them easily transportable from one body of water to another on the hulls of pleasure boats.
Malinchock predicted that the mussels and efforts to control them "will affect our lives and our pocketbooks for a long time."
Unlike clams and oysters, he said, zebra mussels are considered unfit for human consumption "because they are too small to harvest, and it is believed that they could carry infectious parasites."