A few weeks ago, I participated in a mussel survey with Steve Buck, thr Natural Areas Coordinator with the Illinois Natural History Survey. The goal of this was to locate mussels in a stretch of river to asses how mussels are doing. According to Steve, this particular body of water used to be crystal clear, and the floor of the river was covered in mussels, which partially filter the water. Fertilizers and soil losses really impacted the water quality, making it dark with runoff particulates and algae. In the 70’s and 80’s things were the worst, according to Steve. There were very few mussels, low diversity, and no signs of improvement.
Currently things are more hopeful, as recent surveys have shown increases in populations, and species diversity, with our particular group finding a large number of very young mussels. After talking with Steve, it is clear that the water is not nearly as clean or clear as it was in pre-industrial times, but we are starting to see signs of improvement, and that makes it easier to get people involved when we can show them that we can make things better.
One of the great things about this area is that there are plenty of ways to get involved in projects that deal with soil and water quality, and plenty of knowledgeable individuals who really want us to help.