SPICER -- Like bracing for an uninvited guest to ring the doorbell, zebra mussels seem closer by the day.
They've established themselves in the Lake Le Homme Dieu chain of lakes in Douglas County, less than an hour's drive away.
They're proliferating rapidly in Lake Minnetonka, which has now been dubbed a "super spreader'' due to the threat that the many boaters using the lake could spread the invasive aquatic species.
Yet, for the first time, there's also a sense of optimism and there's a greater resolve then ever, according to Terry Frazee with the Green Lakes Property Owners Association.
The Green Lake association is partnering with Minnesota Waters, which represents lakes associations across the state, and the lakes associations in Douglas County and Lake Minnetonka to research a promising tool in the battle to stop the mussels.
It's a commercial product known as Zeaquanox. It offers the promise of helping control the invasive species.
"This is the light at the end of the tunnel we have not had,'' said Frazee.
Developed 20 years ago by Dr. Daniel Molloy, a scientist with the New York State Museum, Zeaquanox is a strain of bacteria called Pseudomonas fluorescens. The bacteria are found naturally just about everywhere, from the ground we walk on to the milk we drink.
The bacteria are selectively toxic to zebra and quagga mussels when ingested by the invasive species.
In the case of Zeaquanox, the bacteria are killed. The dead bacteria cells retain the toxin that kills the zebra mussels. It causes the cells in the mussels' digestive systems to hemorrhage.
The product is not harmful to native mussels, waterfowl or fish, and poses no risk to people, according to Frazee and Lois Sinn Lindquist, executive director of Minnesota Waters.
The three partners intend to be at the forefront in researching whether the product can effectively be used to control zebra mussels in Minnesota lakes.
Zeaquanox is already being used by power companies in place of chlorine to keep water intake pipes clear of the invasive species. Its toxicity to zebra mussels is 100 percent when present in high concentrations in the intake pipes and other closed systems.
But can it be effectively used in lakes, where it will be diluted and where it will be far more difficult to apply the product where it is most needed? And, can the product be made available at a reasonable cost for large-scale use?
These are among the questions the partners hope to be among the first to answer.
Having a possible tool to control zebra mussels is not the only reason for the optimism that's starting to show itself, according to the partners.
Frazee and Lindquist noted that recent state legislation requiring boaters to drain their watercraft and new funding for research to control invasive aquatic species are all positive signs.
Lindquist said she was also encouraged by a recent visit with Tom Landwehr, new director of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. He made clear the department's commitment to stopping the invasive species, she said.
Containment and keeping the zebra mussels out of local waters remains the number one priority, said Frazee. "Don't move a mussel'' and other campaigns aimed at heightening public awareness are the first line of defense.
Or as Lindquist said it: "Spread the message, not the mussel.''