Metro-area lake 1st to test new anti-zebra mussels product

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A new front in the war on zebra mussels has been opened on a western suburban waterway.

Christmas Lake in Shorewood, near Lake Minnetonka, will be the first Minnesota lake where a new product called Zequanox will be tested.

Dan Molloy, a New York scientist who developed the product, boldly told the Star Tribune that it will be a history-making experiment. “It’s the first attempt to solve the zebra mussel problem in the world. And it’s got a shot at it.”

The product, owned by California-based Marrone Bio Innovations, was just approved for use in open water by the Environmental Protection Agency two months ago. But Minnesota officials, increasingly frustrated by the invasive species' rapid spread, are eager to give it a try.

Company officials say Zequanox is a promising weapon in what have thus far been losing battles against the sharp-edged invasive species, calling the product "the industry’s only selective and environmentally compatible molluscicide." They say it is made with dead cells from a naturally occurring soil microbe, which kill the mussels that consume it. The product is less harmful than traditional chemicals, and company officials note it is "biodegradable, noncorrosive and nonvolatile."

Zebra mussels have been filtering into Minnesota lakes and rivers at an alarming rate and have now claimed at least 200 state waterways, including Lake Minnetonka. Over the summer, a Detroit Lakes area lake became the first in that area to be found containing the invasive species.

The striped, fast-multiplying fingernail-sized mussels are a serious threat, officials say – they cut the feet of swimmers, muck up boat motors, crowd out native species and can alter a lake's food chain.

Zebra mussels are native to Eastern Europe and Western Russia, and were first discovered in the Great Lakes in 1988, believed to have been brought there in ballast water of freighters. (Check out this government dynamic map that shows the spread of zebra mussels over time.)

Battleground: Christmas Lake

State officials have been more aggressive in recent years about tackling the spread of zebra mussels, mostly by focusing on public awareness campaigns and targeting boaters who transport the clingy critters from one lake to another.

But Christmas Lake marks the site of one of the first real attacks on zebra mussels aimed at wiping them out of a specific body of water. The invasive species was found there just last month.

Spray treatments there were completed Monday, and for comparison, U.S. Geological Survey scientists will also test a variety of concentrations of Zequanox in Lake Minnetonka, the Star Tribune reports. Results won't be known for a few weeks, the newspaper says.

“If it works, it will be a huge success story,” one DNR official told the newspaper.

A plan to test Zequanox in a Wisconsin lake over the summer was scrapped due to local opposition, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

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