Officials boost chlorine in canal water

Action intended to stave off any quagga invasion

Although quagga mussels have yet to arrive in the Coachella Valley, water officials decided Tuesday to fight the invasive species by adding 4,050 gallons of chlorine a day to the Coachella Canal.

The decision came the same day California and Nevada water officials called on Congress to act quickly to stop the spread of mussels that threaten local waterways throughout the Southwest.

The Coachella Valley Water District's board of directors voted Tuesday to take precautionary measures, Assistant General Manager Mark Beuhler said.

The water district will add 4,050 gallons of chlorine to the waterway on a daily basis as early as next week to kill off some mussels.

"We haven't seen any yet, but our reaction is to be better safe than sorry," Beuhler said. "We're going to try to control them before they get here."

The chlorine will be added to the Coachella Canal in southern Imperial County, where it branches off from the All-American Canal about 10 miles west of Yuma, Ariz.

It will take a few miles for the chlorine to dissolve and it should not affect residents, Beuhler said. Congress hears concern

Water officials from elsewhere testified in Washington, D.C. about the invasion of the mussels at a hearing of the House Natural Resources Committee Subcommittee on Water and Power. Water authority officials complained that the quagga mussel, a thumb-sized mollusk, can clog water pipes and facilities and wreak havoc on habitats.

"It's significant. They grow very quickly," said Ric De Leon, water systems operations manager for the Metropolitan Water District in Southern California, which includes Riverside County. "If they spread beyond where they are, it will be costly."

The officials urged Congress to provide federal funding for more research, to develop a regional plan to address the problem and help agencies rid their water systems of the mussels. De Leon said his agency spends $10 million to $15 million a year to address the problem.

"We are coping with the problem - for the moment," said Ronald Zegers, director of the Southern Nevada Water System, who called it the "most serious nonindigenous" pest introduced in North American freshwater systems.

The mussel first appeared in the Great Lakes in the 1980s, but has since spread to other states, including California, Arizona and Nevada. It was first spotted last year in the Colorado River. The Coachella Valley Water District uses water from the river to irrigate farmland.

State water officials and scientists said there are a few effective ways to kill the mussels. Chlorine, though, can harm the environment.

"By solving one problem, we created another," said Zegers. "All of these solutions come at a price."

Rep. Grace Napolitano, D-Santa Fe Springs, chairwoman of the subcommittee, said she plans to convene a meeting of officials from such agencies as the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to form "some kind of road map" to solve the problem.

Napolitano also urged federal officials to look into a possible biological treatment alternative tested in New York.

Federal land officials said addressing the problem is a priority and have channeled funding into research and educational outreach, including a campaign dubbed, "Don't Move a Mussel." But lawmakers complained they are not moving fast enough to identify and address the problem.

"This has been a difficult issue for us in the West," said Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno.

Boat manufacturers and dealers, however, warned against overreactions and fear that has led some communities to ban recreation boats on waterways. Boats have been a vehicle for mussels, officials said. Those bans have had an impact on local economies and recreational boaters, said Jim Klark of the Southern California Marine Association.

"We must work to change the mindset of closure as a first measure," Klark said.