One might not be the loneliest number

One might not be the loneliest number

URBANA — A recent mussel survey of a section of the Saline Branch in Crystal Lake Park turned up a lone live species — a fatmucket.

"A female, which is a good sign," said Jeremy Tiemann, aquatic zoologist with the Illinois Natural History Survey.

A good sign, because she has a chance to reproduce if there's a male mussel lurking about that happened to elude the survey team during their Friday morning hunt.

"It's definitely possible," he said. "The water was clear, so we could visually search, but mussels do bury ... And they do feel like rocks, so it's possible one was overlooked."

Tiemann and several others from the natural history survey conducted the mussel survey last week to develop kind of a baseline, he said, of what species and numbers are found now, and then they'll return in five to 10 years — after the installation of in-stream riffles in the Saline — to survey again and see if anything has changed.

Earlier this summer, Urbana park board members approved the in-stream riffle project for a section of the Saline. Slated to begin in the fall of 2016, the project will create three riffle pools, or areas where the water bubbles over shallow rocks, which adds oxygen to the water and creates improved habitat for mussels.

The project will be paid for from the settlement from the UI, the Urbana-Champaign Sanitary District and CEDA Inc. after a 2002 release of toxic levels of ammonia into the sewer system from boilers being cleaned at the university's Abbott Power Plant.

The sanitary district couldn't treat it, and released it into the drainage ditch, where the Department of Natural Resources estimated it killed more than 100,000 fish from the sanitary district plant in northeast Urbana to the confluence of the Salt Fork and Middle Fork rivers.

According to Tiemann, the fatmucket is a common headwater, smaller stream species, so their lone find isn't on the endangered list. The female fatmucket also needs a host fish to reproduce.

The survey team walked the Saline from the Anita Purves Nature Center to Franklin Street, he said, and that's the section the Illinois Department of Natural Resources wanted to sample and where the riffles will be built.

He said historically there haven't been many mussels in the Saline Branch, so they didn't expect to find much. He said fish usually move in first, and then slowly mussels follow, and there are some fish known to be making a comeback in the Saline, the bigeye chub, for instance.

So that's an indication the stream is slowly getting better, he said. Chubs do have big eyes and typically don't like murky water or silty bottoms, so they can be an indicator of good water quality.

Tiemann said hopefully, when they survey 5-10-20 years down the road, they'll be seeing mussels making a come back in the Saline.

Farther downstream in the Salt Fork River, another mussels project in which Tiemann is involved seems to be doing well.

In summer 2012, IDNR and natural history survey officials place endangered mussels at multiple locations in the Salt Fork and Middle Fork rivers. The mussels were tagged with devices that allow researchers to track them as part of an effort to restore the population of northern riffleshell mussels and clubshell mussels in Illinois. The 1,200 mussels came from the Allegheny River in Pennsylvania where a bridge replacement project will threaten the mussels in the river if they're not moved.

Multiple states have been involved in the effort, and Tiemann said Indiana is getting ready to relocate a batch.

With all the rain, scientists here haven't been able to go out to the river sites here to monitor, but Tiemann said their population seems right on par with what other states are seeing — about 80 percent surviving.

Next year, or the year after, he said, they will likely go get another batch or two from below the bridge, which is slated to come down in the next few years.

He said they may get as many as 2,000 more to augment the existing population.

"Mussels do die naturally," he said, adding from old age, or they get eaten by raccoons, so they will add to their numbers with another relocation and hope they begin reproducing on their own.

"Hopefully by the time I retire, they will be reproducing on their own. That's the ultimate goal, trying to determine if they reproduce," he said.

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