Last week’s report of the discovery of zebra mussels (ZMs) nearby is devastating news to those of us who have worked to prevent the incessant march of these marauders by water and by hitchhiking towards Candlewood Lake’s shores. Known for encrusting boat engines and hulls, congregating on underwater substrates, clogging intake pipes of all types, making beaches treacherous, and generally turning a lake’s ecology and the surrounding regional economies on their ear, this is grim news indeed. Retrieved one week ago from the Housatonic River by the Rocky River hydroelectric plant that serves Candlewood, this is the closest these invasive, prolific critters have been sighted.
Such proximity has several important implications for all who recreate on the Lake and nearby waters. Given past evidence of ZM existence in Lakes Housatonic, Lillinonah, and Zoar plus the Twin Lakes in Salisbury, we have to assume that the Housatonic River stretch is now affected — as well other regional water bodies separately identified as being infected. This must give pause to recreational users of vessels and equipment of all sizes and types that potentially touch these waters -- sail, power, kayaks, canoes, rafts, tubes, fishing gear, paddles, scuba gear, even swim suits and pets are vulnerable as carriers of zebra mussels.
Understanding the presence, nature and breadth of this risk is a key step. Next, prevention and vigilance must become watchwords for all generations — so ensure your teens and twenty-somethings are attuned as well. Lake and river users must rethink and perhaps replace their typical recreational patterns and seriously consider if potentially infested waters can be avoided and ‘clean’ waters accessed instead. If not, those who come in contact with contaminated or risky waters must follow the accepted protocols of ‘clean-drain-dry’ following exposure to avoid the associated risks that could lead to contamination of Candlewood Lake or other waters. (Access candlewoodlakeauthority.org for specific guidance.) Adopting a ‘no risk’ recreational strategy and plan should become essential ingredients of all water users’ playbooks.
These cautions are crucial since once a water body becomes infested with ZMs, there is little to no chance of neutralizing them; plus the costs of remediation can be staggering. Add to the upending of a lake’s ecology — as we are experiencing with the resurgence of milfoil this season, there could be a staggering loss in recreational and real estate values that cannot be reclaimed. Bottom-line: if we are to protect Candlewood Lake, designated as a ‘CT Crown Jewel’ as we all can attest, practicing proactive prevention keyed to the goal of ‘zero zebras’ is essential. This will necessitate a doubling down of our collective efforts to do everything possible to stop further ZM incursions. Let this serve as a wake-up call as we all look for ways to keep our Lake’s waters ZM-free for this and future generations.
Jim McAlister, Chair
Candlewood Watershed Initiative (CWI)