Monday, August 27, 2007

When Quaggas Attack

Today's water-related post is essentially the inverse of the last post. In the previous post, we considered the plight of the delta smelt, an endangered fish that is killed in the diversion of water from Northern California. Meet the quagga mussel. These mussels are native to the Ukraine and Russia; they were brought to Lake Erie by ships from Europe, and have been exploding through water supplies, recently reaching the Colorado River and the aqueducts bringing water to Southern California. The quaggas reproduce at a fantastic, tribble-like rate, and clog up reservoirs, aqueducts, and other important water-related stuff.

Quagga mussels and their cousins, the zebra mussels, have already wreaked havoc in other parts of the country; the E.P.A. estimates that quagga and zebra mussels caused $750 billion in damage in the Great Lakes region. California state biologists and engineers are deeply concerned about the arrival of the quaggas: engineers twice drained the major Southern California Aqueduct in order to chlorinate it in an attempt to remove its quagga infestation this year. The quaggas filter tremendous amounts of nutrients and plankton from the water, changing the ability of rivers and lakes to sustain other wildlife.