Mussels (U.S. Fish and Wildlife photo)

It’s feared this year’s Mississippi River flooding in the Quad Cities is damaging the population of freshwater mussels.

About a half-million mussels were relocated to existing upstream mussel beds before construction started on the new Interstate 74 bridge between Bettendorf and Moline. Now, biologist Kraig McPeek at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says as the water rose, the current got faster and stronger.

“Mussels tend to congregate and create mussel beds in areas that are protected from some of the more significant flows,” McPeek says. “In those areas, your sheer force, that area right between where the water meets the mussel or meets the river bed, that sheer force is low enough that they can hold themselves in position but some absolutely get displaced.”

The relocation plan includes monitoring the mussels for ten years. The first “checkup” more than a year ago showed no major problems with their new home. Besides unpredictable weather and stream flows, McPeek says plans change with any construction project as big as the new I-74 bridge.

“I know there are changes ongoing and we’re in communication with the DOTs and any of those changes,” McPeek says, “and certainly we would consider impacts to freshwater mussels and make sure that the laws are followed and that any best management practices or conservation plans that could be implemented would be.”

McPeek says the continued flooding made it too dangerous to check up on the mussels this year, but divers should be able to conduct more monitoring next spring and into the summer.

(By Michelle O’Neill, WVIK, Rock Island)