Zebra mussels targeted at Florence County lake

Zebra mussels coat the rocks at Keyes Lake in Florence County, Friday, June 13, 2014. (WLUK/Eric Peterson)

FLORENCE COUNTY - The battle to control an invasive species is heading to the waters of Florence County. Scientists want to use a bacteria to kill zebra mussels in Keyes Lake. It's all part of an experiment designed to help save the lake's native mussel population.

A look below Keyes Lake in Florence County reveals the damage scientists say zebra mussels can do.

"These native mussels are probably four inches long. They probably had 25-30 zebra mussels colonizing them. They can't move. They have a hard time feeding. They can't reproduce," said Jim Kreitlow, DNR lakes biologist.

"They'll attach to the dock, and the pier, and anything and everything," said Gary Blunt, Keyes Lake resident.

Blunt lives on the lake. He says shells cover the bottom and more.

"When you go swimming, or you want to walk in the water, you have to wear swimming socks or shoes, otherwise you'll cut your feet," said Blunt.

But help may be on the way. Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Geological Survey scientists hope an experiment will control the invaders. 300 native clams, encrusted with zebra mussels will be put in nine pens five feet below the surface. A barrier will be placed around the pens. A 12-hour dose of bacteria called Zequanox will be mixed in, killing the invasives.

"They will look at the impacts on zebra mussels. What does the soil bacterium do to native mussels, and just to see what kind of success we have in doing this," said Kreitlow.

The Environmental Protection Agency approved Zequanox for industrial use two years ago.

Scientists hope to get state approval for use on open water later this month.

So is it safe for the lake's environment?

"We exposed seven species of native mussels to this material, at three times the exposure duration that we're looking at doing in Keyes Lake, and saw no impacts on survival," said Jim Luoma, U.S. Geological Survey fisheries biologist.

"What we're trying to do is protect some of the native mussels that are there. And not have them wiped out by the zebra mussels," said Kreitlow.

But Gary Blunt says invasive species aren't going away.

"It's only going to get worse. If it's not on your lake, it's coming to your lake, trust me," said Blunt.

Scientists hope to start gathering native clams later this month. The Zequanox treatment is scheduled for July. The mussels will be studied in the underwater pens for a year.