Zebra mussels have invaded Claremore via Oologah Lake.

Heritage Hills Golf Course inside the city limits, managed by Rogers County Public Facilities Authority (PFA), will invest up to $5,000 for a Y strainer with automatic back flush to be installed on the discharge side of pumps in order to eliminate problems with zebra mussels clogging the sprinkler system.

The prolific species has caused big problems across the nation for locks and dams, treatment plants and water intake pipes. Tulsa draws raw water from Oologah Lake through a 64-inch line. Heritage Hills buys some of that raw water from Tulsa, piping it in through a feeder line.

PFA Board members discussed the zebra mussel problem with course manager Dave Wilber at the last two board meetings. When course greens are fertilized, it is imperative to water immediately to keep grass from burning. When sprinklers clog, panic ensues until sprinkler heads can be cleared.

Wilber reported that the problem has been growing for the past three years and has turned into a major problem. The Board is turning to the filtration and back-flush system. Golf courses across the U.S. are already using this system against the invading creatures.

Wilber said the filtration system is a good investment and will keep other things besides zebra mussels from clogging golf course water lines. But the mussels are the immediate problem.

Zebra mussels spread at a prolific rate, with females producing up to one million eggs per spawn, according to Everett Laney of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Laney is on the state’s Zebra Mussel Task Force which is gathering research to create an Aquatic Nuisance Species Management Plan.

Oklahoma’s warm water temperatures are particularly conducive to prolonged spawn seasons.

Laney said females in the Arkansas River have been known to spawn three-to-four times per summer. In fact, with the right temperatures, the mussels may have a continuous spawn with eggs always in the water.

Due to spikes in water temperatures last summer, there had been an apparent reduction in the older, more mature zebras.

Learning about the increase of clogging in golf course sprinkler heads concerns Laney.

“That could be new spawn,” he said. Laney explained that the more eutrophic or nutrient-rich water is, the bigger the zebras get, and the more they reproduce.

Recent flooding brought in new nutrients in the form of sediment. Cooler water temperatures this year are conducive to large spawns.

“The conditions are right,” he said. He said the task force will be watching to see what the numbers are this fall.

Wilber is hopeful that the recent increase in sprinkler head clogging is not a result of new spawn.

“We have miles and miles of water line,” he said. “I think the bits of shell are just now getting all of the way down the line and into the system.”

Clogged water lines and sprinkler heads are not the only concern caused by the invading mussels.

Laney said the zebras are efficient at filter feeding and while they will clear water up, they are removing nutrients that fish hatchlings depend on.

“They can totally disrupt the fisheries and food chain,” he said.

Originally believed to be a native of Russia, the species made its way into the Great Lakes and has spread across the U.S. by hitching rides on unsuspecting boats or in pails of water. Colder water kept spawn numbers lower in other areas. Not so here.

Spawning season for zebras in Oklahoma can run from May through October according to Laney. Whenever the water reaches 54 degrees, it’s warm enough for the species to proliferate. That could be a real problem.

“Once they get into an open water body, there’s no way to eradicate them without killing everything else,” said Laney.