Endangered mussels controlling water levels

FILE - Photo from Aug. 7, 2014, shows mussels. NIPSCO and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are working to protect endangered mussels, but also help the water levels at Lake Freeman in White County, Ind. (WLFI File Photo)
FILE - Photo from Aug. 7, 2014, shows mussels. NIPSCO and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are working to protect endangered mussels, but also help the water levels at Lake Freeman in White County, Ind. (WLFI File Photo)

CARROLL COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) – NIPSCO and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are working to protect the mussels in the Tippecanoe River, but also help the water levels on Lake Freeman.

Field supervisor with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Scott Pruitt said the Tippecanoe River’s water quality and slow water movement play key roles in why a mussel can usually be spotted.

“The Tippecanoe River has one of the most abundant and diverse mussel populations in Indiana. It probably rivals any in the Midwest — [with] 25-30 live species, six endangered species, federally endangered or threatened species,” said Pruitt.

The endangered mussels in the Tippecanoe River are a reason for low water levels on Lake Freeman. To avoid violating the Endangered Species Act, Pruitt said in 2013, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NIPSCO agreed to keep at least 500 cubic feet of water per second flowing through the Oakdale Dam to protect those mussels.

A NIPSCO spokesman said that reading now comes from a gauge near the dam, instead of one near Delphi. He told News 18 because the measuring point is closer to the dam, less water will flow through the dam from the lake. The temporary change was implemented late Tuesday night.

“NIPSCO, in order to maintain the flow that they’ve been asked to, have had to draw down Lake Freeman to maintain that 500 CFS. We’re hoping that, that’s a short-lived thing. History tells us — based on historic records of how often these dry spells come and what their frequency is in duration — that this should be a short-lived situation,” said Pruitt.

U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita wrote a letter Tuesday to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about his concerns about the effects of the low lake levels on businesses. He met with Pruitt Wednesday to get a closer look at the mussels in the river. He says the different parties involved are working on a more long-term solution.

“We can come up with a longer term solution that may not be perfect or a magic pill, but could actually mimic nature a lot better. I would hope we can get to the before this happens again,” said Rokita.

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