You could be spreading zebra mussels that threaten KS lakes

Published: May. 29, 2017 at 7:25 PM CDT
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Some of you may have spent Memorial Day on the lake, and chances are, the lake you were on has zebra mussels.

Thirty Kansas lakes, mostly in the central and eastern half of the state are affected.

Experts are asking for your help in preventing their spread.

It didn't take long to find a rock covered with zebra mussels at Chase County Lake. Just 12 miles away, is a private lake - Lake Kohola - that's zebra mussel free.

Ken Kreif is from Derby, but has a cabin on Lake Kohola. He's spent the last 10 years working hard to make sure the invasive zebra mussels don't spread to that lake, and educating others.

Lori Brown of Overland Park recently saw what the invasive species can do first hand while seeing boats pull into a shop to get cleaned.

"It was nasty, it was smelly. It was just all over the metal pontoons," Brown said. "They were all over, there wasn't a space they didn't get to," she said.

Zebra mussels attach to and completely cover solid surfaces, damaging boating equipment and clogging water pipes. Their razor-sharp shells can be a danger to swimmers.

"It'll cut your feet, you try to climb out on a ladder, they'll cut your hands," Kreif said.

The creatures also destroy natural environments, eating the plankton, and causing harmful blue-green algae blooms.

"They're a menace," Brown said.

That's why you'll find signs at contaminated public lakes in Kansas, warning people. The signs read, "Alert! This water contains zebra mussels."

Affected lakes include El Dorado Lake, Cheney Lake, Winfield City Lake, Wellington Lake, Kanopolis Lake, Chase County Lake -- to name a few.

"Here's how we prevent these things - by not bringing anything wet from one body of water to another. Even a small volume of water can carry microscopic eggs," Kreif said.

One mussel can lay up to one million eggs, and the larvae are invisible to the naked eye.

Kreif is an Air Force veteran, and spent 12 years at McConnell. There, he taught others how to survive in a contaminated environment. Now he's retired and works to keep Kansas waters from being contaminated by zebra mussels.

Contaminated bodies of water surround Lake Kahola, which is northwest of Emporia. But the community on the lake say Kreif has played a huge role in keeping the lake free of zebra mussels.

Kreif launched a program that requires every boat from the community of about 160 homes to pass inspection from one of 30 volunteers, before gates at launch points are unlocked, and the boats are let into the water.

"Everybody here is now well educated, so there's total support," he said.

"Lake Kahola is an oasis in the heart of the Flint Hills," said Doug Montgomery, who can decontaminates boats along with Ken.

"It's very critical not to have our children fall out of a boat in shallow water and be sliced. It's very critical not to lose our bait supply, our feed supply for our game fish. It also enhances the poisonous blue-green algae," Montgomery said.

Kreif has presented the extent of the zebra mussel problem to the Kansas Ag committee. He's hoping for legislation that will require Kansas kids to be educated about zebra mussels, and laws that will require boaters to keep the boat plug unplugged, even while driving so that any contaminated water has a chance to dry out.

Until then Kreif is asking you to play your part by cleaning, draining, and drying all your water equipment.


Here's more information from the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks on zebra mussels:

How do we control zebra mussels?

Zebra mussels cannot be controlled in the wild.

Chemicals can be used to kill zebra mussels. If these chemicals were used in an open lake they would also affect fish and native mussels.

In Virginia, zebra mussels were eradicated from a small lake. Costly, and detrimental to native mussels, this represents the first successful eradication of zebra mussels in the wild and may be used in the future.

The spread of zebra mussels can be prevented by draining all of the water from boats, live wells, and bait wells.

Throughly inspect your boat's hull and trailer for any zebra mussels and remove.

Wash equipment with 140-degree water (your local car wash hot water rinse).

Let equipment sit for 5 days.

Never take fish or plants from one lake and put them in another.

Never dip your bait bucket into a lake or river if it has water in it from another waterbody.