Though they go mostly unseen, Muncie’s White River is home to a large and healthy population of freshwater mussels. The Muncie Sanitary District’s Bureau of Water Quality (BWQ) has been monitoring the health of these unique and highly imperiled creatures for over twenty years. They serve not only as excellent indicators of water quality, but they also help clean the water as they filter food from the water column.
When the Community Enhancement Project began pursuing grants for the removal of dams in Muncie, they knew the potential impacts on mussels would be of particular interest to funding agencies like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of Natural Resources. The still waters behind dams reduce the availability of oxygen and food and they promote the settling of sediments which can bury mussels. In addition, the dam itself is a physical barrier to the movement of mussels and their host fish species, creating isolated, fragile populations.
The BWQ has been able to provide support for the dam removals in two ways. The first is by relocating mussels that may be stranded as the river returns to its natural course. BWQ biologists moved and relocated over 3,000 individual mussels while the river stabilizes.
Second, the BWQ will help to document the long-term impacts on mussels, which are expected to benefit as fragmented populations are reconnected.
To help dwindling populations, Indiana banned the harvest and/or handling of freshwater mussels in 1991. BWQ biologists have permits through the state for their research on these organisms.
Below are some pictures that were taken during our relocation efforts.