By EMMA MURRAY, The Forum of Fargo, N.D.
PELICAN LAKE, Minn. (AP) - Until this year Erika Johnson had the ideal beach cottage on Pelican Lake -- a summer retreat that has been in her family for four generations.
The family celebrated the cottage's centennial earlier this July, but this year was different.
Instead of a summer spent on the lake worry free, now Johnson and other Pelican Lake-goers are worrying about putting on shoes before taking a dip in the lake -- zebra mussels are taking over the waters of Pelican Lake.
"We had zebra mussels last year, and we didn't see anything, and we didn't notice them," she said. "We took a boat out in the fall and were like, 'Oh my gosh, what is this?' Zebra mussels were covering the dock, the boat lift, and we knew we were in trouble."
That trouble was illustrated this summer when Johnson had a family reunion at the cottage.
"This is actually our first summer that we're seeing zebra mussels, and it is amazingly awful," she said. "We had a big family reunion, and I'm talking all the kids had bloody feet coming out (of the lake)."
But for Johnson and other water recreation lovers, there is hope out there, hope that's been 20 years in the making by a New York scientist.
Dan Malloy, research scientist with the University at Albany, is behind the 20 years of research.
“Zebra mussels were covering the dock, the boat lift, and we knew we were in trouble.”Erika Johnson, cottage owner on Pelican Lake
"Unfortunately certain things in life grab our attention because they cause problems rather than the benefits, and that's been the story really with zebra mussels from the start," he said.
In 1995, Malloy discovered a biopesticide, a green pesticide that is made up of "naturally occurring bacteria" that if eaten by zebra mussels, kills them without harming the surrounding ecosystem. But this biopesticide wasn't originally intended for open waters, including lakes and rivers.
Its original purpose was to provide industries -- with zebra mussel-infested water intake pipes -- a greener alternative to the harsh chemical pesticides typically used to clean out the clogged pipes, Malloy said.
A company in California now plans to sells the biopesticide under the name Zequanox, providing a green alternative to industries affected by zebra mussels.
But as of late, more and more questions of Zequanox's use in lakes in rivers have come up, Malloy said.
That's why Malloy made a trip last month to Douglas County near Alexandria.
"The folks there wanted some info on zebra mussels, and in particular they wanted to know what the history was of this green control agent (Zequanox)," Malloy said.
Lake Le Homme Dieu in Alexandria reported findings of zebra mussels in June 2009.
Since Zequanox has never been tested in open waters, Malloy said logistics are the main focus right now.
"I suggested that whether it was Douglas County or other lakes, some comprehensive rigorous testing be done so we carefully define what the potential is when using this green product in open water -- lakes and rivers. That's still to be defined."
Earlier this month, Otter Tail County's Coalition of Lake Associations (COLA) had a similar meeting about Zequanox. Otter Tail County lakes affected by zebra mussels include Bass, Crystal, Fish, Little Pelican, Pelican and Prairie lakes; the Pelican River -- which connects an entire chain of west central Minnesota lakes and empties into the Red River Basin -- is also affected.
Little Pelican, Crystal and Prairie lakes have not found evidence of zebra mussels yet, but are still designated as infested due to regular water flow between other infested lakes.
Johnson, the cottage owner on Pelican Lake, is currently working on a series of public service announcements focusing on aquatic invasive species in order to provide an educational outlet to inform lake users.
The educational efforts were organized by RMB Environmental Laboratories and the Pelican River Watershed District, both of Detroit Lakes. The PSAs will be released next spring.
Until further testing of Zequanox is done, "clean, drain and dry" will remain the three magic words to prevent further spread of the zebra mussel.
"It's time Minnesotans and visitors who enjoy the lakes step up and demand that we take action with aquatic invasive species like the zebra mussels, and that we each do our own part," Johnson said.
"We can make a difference by really being conscientious of where we're swimming and what lakes we're traveling to, and using the proper safety procedures so we don't transfer (zebra mussels)."
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)