Mona Shield Payne / Special to the Home News
Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2009 | midnight
Beyond the Sun
Inside the fish hatchery at Lake Mead, the tanks are empty. The absence of the faintest trickle of water is eerie for Nevada Department of Wildlife hatchery manager Clyde Park.
"I'm not used to it being so quiet," he said. "If the water was not running before, we had to figure out what was wrong."
But officials at Lake Mead know what's wrong: the quagga mussel. The invasive species can clog pipes, ruin mechanical equipment and damage the ecosystem.
The mussels were found in the lake in January 2007. "A week later, we went through the whole facility and found them here," Park said.
For Park, the decision to suspend production at the five-person operation was obvious. The raw water used in the hatchery could spread quaggas throughout its tanks and its elaborate system of pipes.
"We made the decision to save the infrastructure and wait until the water supply is mussel free to open again," Park said.
Since the mussels had already established a presence in the Eastern U.S. and Great Lakes region, Park had a template to work with in ridding the hatchery's water supply of mussels while the last of the remaining trout were bred.
Park employed a series of filters, disinfectant and ultraviolet light to rid the water of the contaminants.
One small part of the hatchery has remained in operation through the process. It houses the endangered razorback sucker — an endemic species to Lake Mead. The water in this area is piped in through a temporary hose that bypasses the rest of the hatchery's infrastructure.
Like other fish in the hatchery, the suckers are first brought in for incubation, then go into troughs, followed by tanks, and finally larger ponds. The fish are put into the lake after reaching 9 to 12 inches, which happens between 9 and 14 months.
While the suckers have remained, since May 2007 the hatchery has stopped birthing its yearly output of 200,000 pounds of trout used to stock Lake Mead and other waters in Southern Nevada, from Esmeralda to Clark counties.
After shuttering the hatchery, officials embarked on a three-month cleaning sweep — taking apart pipes, repeatedly flushing them and disinfecting all surfaces that came into contact with the raw water.
Hatchery operations moved to Mesa Valley Hatchery in Yerington and to net pens below the Willow Beach Hatchery.
While the hatchery is dormant, department officials are trying to find a supplier of ozonated and chlorinated water (5 million gallons a day), which would kill viruses, bacteria and protozoa.
The park estimates the process of finding a treated water supply could take between six months and a year, followed by up to another two months to resume operations.
Park is a fisherman himself who has managed hatcheries for 29 years — Lake Mead for the last 10. He cannot wait until the suckers are joined by trout once more — and the rest of the water is flowing again, quagga-free.
"We have too much invested here," he said. "It will be up and running."
Dave Clark can be reached at 990-2677 or firstname.lastname@example.org.