Now that warmer temperatures are finally upon us, it’s time to take advantage of the many water activities that come with summertime in the Midwest—canoeing, kayaking, swimming, fishing and more. As we have learned from recent events, we can no longer take water quality for granted, and inadequate water quality can put a quick end to our summer fun.
What many people don’t realize is that the identification and protection of freshwater mussels is a critical piece in maintaining our freshwater ecosystems. I have personally spent time on Lake Erie every summer of my life and never knew mussels existed—let alone how important they are.
These aquatic creatures live buried in substrate and purify the waters they inhabit. In fact, an individual mussel can filter more than 18 gallons of water per day—minimizing toxins, bacteria and algae in our waters. Beyond this, mussels are excellent indicators of water quality, and they excrete nutrients that aid in feeding fish and larger invertebrates.
Unfortunately, 65% of all freshwater mussel species are threatened or endangered, and we’re on the verge of losing their contribution to our environment. In Ohio, all 60 of the native mussel species are protected by the Ohio Revised Code, and 10 of those species are protected by the Endangered Species Act.
Many of our transportation and infrastructure designs affect waterways. In 2014, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) developed the Ohio Mussel Survey Protocol. Based on this protocol, a mussel survey is required for any project potentially impacting a stream with a drainage area greater than 10 square miles. Members of our team have become certified to perform surveys and relocations to ensure that projects do not diminish these creatures and the value they bring.
LJB’s environmental services team understands the value mussels bring, and we’re working to curb the impacts our society is having on them. “These unique species bring an incredible amount of value to our ecosystems and it’s very rewarding to be part of their conservation effort,” said Marion Wells, an LJB environmental scientist who is certified in Ohio Freshwater Mussel Identification – Reconnaissance of Group 1 Systems, and Surveys of Group 1 and 3 Systems.
While mussels can vary in size from less than an inch to up to a foot, their overall impact to our environment is beyond measure. We’re working to save these creatures one project at a time, so that we can all enjoy our natural environment for years to come.