Success Story

Reclamation’s Award-winning High Impact Research on Advancing Mussel Detection

Mussels can attach to and clog pipes, pumps, trash racks, cooling water systems, fire protection systems, and virtually any water-related infrastructure surface, thereby reducing the reliability and efficiency of water and hydropower systems while simultaneously increasing maintenance costs. 

Zebra and quagga mussels have recently invaded the Colorado River and other western water bodies. Detecting and preventing the spread of these mussels is, therefore, critical to the Bureau of Reclamation’s primary mission of water and hydropower delivery. To advance the capability of monitoring water bodies for the presence of mussels, Reclamation has entered into a CRADA with Fluid Imaging Technologies to conduct research for improving automated detection and quantification of invasive mussel larvae (also known as “veliger”). Larvae are 70 to 200 microns in size (about half the size of the period at the end of this sentence). Detecting and monitoring invasive mussel larvae is the cornerstone of an effective strategy to manage these invasive nuisances.

Reclamation has pioneered new methods to aid with the early detection of quagga and zebra mussels before they become a major nuisance for water infrastructure. It has developed a Mussel Detection and Monitoring Program to better understand the spread of mussels. This program cooperates with states and other partners to come up with proactive measures to provide the earliest detection possible for any new mussel introductions that can reduce the need to remove mussels or interrupt Reclamation’s facilities and structures. Reclamation has entered into a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with a partner that specializes in developing particle analysis instruments using digital imaging technology that could help monitor mussel larvae.

Under the CRADA, both parties combine their joint interests and capabilities to monitor larvae for various water types. Reclamation’s contributions include research expertise and know-how from botanists, engineers and biologists, and the use of Reclamation’s field test site and research laboratory. The CRADA partner’s contributions include the FlowCAM® technology, research resources, and capabilities to improve its technology to better count samples with abundant organisms. The major advantage of the FlowCAM over traditional cross-polarized microscopy is that it has the potential to process samples more systematically than manual methods, and it provides automated photography of individual particles if additional analysis is necessary. Under the CRADA, both parties jointly improved the FlowCAM into a specialized VeligerCAM to count abundant organisms, including mussel larvae, and monitor physical larvae damage. The FlowCAM hardware has also been upgraded to include dual cameras that can display images of the same organism in both regular and cross-polarized light, which identifies and accelerates the analysis. So far, research results conducted under the CRADA indicate that the images recovered from the VeligerCAM are much brighter and sharper when compared to the standard FlowCAM. The VeligerCAM reports a more accurate high number larvae count than cross-polarized microscopy, and current testing indicates that accuracy remains above 95% recovery. VeligerCAM photos are also used as a tool for evaluating the effectiveness of various mussel control interventions by photographing the pretreatment and post-treatment condition of mussel shell health.

Both parties have benefited from the CRADA. The CRADA partner has improved and validated the performance of its FlowCAM while adding the newly developed VeligerCAM capabilities into its line of product offerings for other users. Reclamation now has a specialized technology that can accurately and efficiently count abundant mussel samples. Due in part to the newly developed VeligerCAM capability, Reclamation's Mussel Detection Laboratory, located in the Technical Service Center in Denver, Colorado, received the 2012 Colorado Governor's Award for High Impact Research for its work advancing methods to monitor for the presence of invasive quagga and zebra mussels in bodies of water.