Pittsfield, MA – The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation held their first public meeting Wednesday afternoon on the issue of the zebra mussel infestation in a Berkshire County lake. WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief Charlie Deitz was there.
Laurel Lake in Lee is the first fresh water body in the state to encounter a zebra mussel infestation, and it's also the first lake that had its public boat ramp closed by the state so the DCR can assess the problem. That measure was taken on July 8th. Since then, associations representing lakes and ponds through out the county have sought to have their own public ramps closed to prevent a further infestation of Berkshire water bodies. The state says no.
Jack Shepard - Director of the office of fishing and boating access - was speaking to a crowd of over 150 people in the city council chambers in Pittsfield city hall. The attendees overflowed into the adjoining hallways where tv's were set up so they could watch the proceedings. Tom Flannery from the DCR had spent the previous 2 days scuba diving laurel lake to get an assessment of the zebra mussel infestation, he says they are firmly established in some parts.
Laurel Lake's public ramp is closed for up to 45 days for a full assessment and report. According to Flannery, there's not much to be done once the species establishes itself.
Zebra mussels have their name because of their tan and brown striping, they're about as big as a fingernail, and can attach to almost anything. Flannery gave a slideshow presentation showing the mussels making habitats out of bouies, anchors, and even the backs of lobsters. He says the financial impact is significant as well, relating a story about some power plants on Lake Erie that had to shut down in 2007.
The mussel is also known to be a filter feeder, siphoning through about 1 liter per day , which clears out the water column, and allows plants to establish themselves at much deeper levels through out the lake. Community members like Matt Millillo from the Richmond pond association, want extreme measures taken to prevent other lakes in the region to become infested. Andrew Madden from Mass Wildlife says the mussel has so many different ways to penetrate a lake, that closing the lakes won't stop it.
The state encourages a comprehensive education and prevention strategy to keep the mussels out of unaffected lakes. Madden says that infested water bodies still manage to support a healthy recreation and commerce.
The DCR has also decided to close the Quabbin reservoir's public boat ramp as a precautionary measure, as the reservoir is the main water supply for over 2 million residents. There is no threat to drinking water but the agency wants to complete a full assessment this summer. Also, State Senator Ben Downing filed legislation on beacon hill Wednesday afternoon that prohibits vessels from launching if they were exposed within 30 days, and have not completed a thorough cleaning. Most recently, the town of Richmond re-opened its public boat ramp to comply with the department of fishing and boating access.