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New findings confirm zebra mussels in Lake Monona

DNR biologists have found two more adult zebra mussels in Lake Monona.

The new finding, in combination with one of the mussels found last year, confirms that the exotic nuisance species has arrived in Lake Monona, and probably in lakes Mendota and Waubesa as well, said Kurt Welke, a Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist.

"This seals the deal," he said Thursday. "We found the two with a minimum of effort. We thought there were more zebra mussels in the Madison lakes and this tells me they are now an established population. Now the Madison lakes represent a source for zebra mussels to be transported (by boaters) to other lakes."

The two mussels discovered this month were located near the Monona Terrace Convention Center. The one found last year was near Olbrich Park.

Given the estimated age of the mussels at two to three years, Welke said they have likely been here for two or three breeding cycles.

The small, fingernail-sized zebra mussels are native to the Caspian Sea region of Asia. They were believed to have been brought to the Great Lakes in ballast water from a transoceanic vessel. They are now showing up in inland lakes.

In Wisconsin, zebra mussels have been found near the shores of Lake Michigan, in 21 inland lakes, and in rivers, including the lower Fox River and Oconomowoc River.

Zebra mussels don't pose a health risk to divers or swimmers except that their sharp shells can make walking on them hazardous.

The shells can make shorelines unusable and they produce a stench as they decay and rot, Welke said.

"The nuisance mussels clog water-intake systems of power plants and water treatment facilities as well as the cooling systems of boat engines.

They also pose a threat to native mussel species. And they filter microscopic plants and animals, which may improve water clarity but might compete with native fish.

The DNR has begun posting inspectors at boat launches along some popular Wisconsin waters in an effort to prevent zebra mussels, Eurasian water milfoil and other invasive species from spreading. The inspectors will talk to boaters about the species and encourage preventive steps.

"They are not authorized to issue citations. Our challenge now is to get the word out," Welke said.

Boaters are urged to drain bilge water and bait buckets and remove aquatic plants on trailers or propellers before leaving the water access area. They are also advised to wash the boat, tackle, downriggers and trailer with hot water when they return home.

Wardens could eventually issue citations in which fines and court costs could amount to $120 for a first offense and $145 for a second offense for launching boats or placing boating equipment in navigable waters if aquatic vegetation or zebra mussels are attached.

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