NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Jan. 22, 2021) – It took 12 years, but a $750,000 mitigation effort culminated in late 2020 that helped the Cumberland River Aquatic Center to propagate mussels and other aquatic species.
Chip Hall, biologist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District’s Project Planning Branch, explained that when the district lowered Lake Cumberland in Kentucky in 2008 to relieve pressure on Wolf Creek Dam, an agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to mitigate environmental impacts resulted in mitigation dollars being committed to the aquatic center.
The Service subsequently entered into an agreement with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, which operates CRAC, to utilize the Corps of Engineers funds at the facility located at the Gallatin Fossil Plant, a Tennessee Valley Authority project on the shoreline of Old Hickory Lake in Gallatin, Tennessee.
Initially the Nashville District funded facility upgrades to the existing mussel holding raceways and electrical systems. TWRA also used mitigation funds to install protective netting and to conduct diving operations to relocate mussels from imperiled Cumberland River habitat in the lower Harpeth and Big South Fork Rivers, and below Cheatham Dam on the Cumberland River. Water pumps were fabricated and installed in the warm water discharge canal from the Gallatin Steam Plant to supply water with consistent temperatures during anytime of the year. A new lab and classroom also made it possible for public outreach education with stakeholders and groups like the Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, churches, home schools, public schools and colleges.
“A total of 18,000 federally endangered pink mucket mussels were propagated in 2012 and 60 percent survived,” Hall said as he noted the success of the mitigation program.
But then, as part of the Tennessee Valley Authority $1 billion clean-air project at its plant, TVA invested $1.5 million in 2013 to construct a new hatchery and aquatic center. The Corps paused its funding during the construction and then reworked necessary partnership agreements to complete its mitigation commitment to CRAC.
Since the completion of the new facility in 2016, the remaining $197,000 of Nashville District mitigation dollars were used for self-flushing raw water filters; water quality meters and alarms for pH (potential of hydrogen), dissolved oxygen, temperature, and ammonium; concrete infrastructure; pond aeration; aquaculture pumps; aquaculture systems; incubator; benchtop hoods; centrifuge; autoclave; RO water systems; ultra low freezer; microscopes; passive integrated transponder tag detector and receiver; fiberglass tanks; and plumbing supplies.
Dan Hua, Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency wildlife biologist and supervisor of CRAC, has spent more than five years working with partners like the Corps of Engineers to propagate and produce endangered aquatic wildlife and to conserve, protect and restore their jeopardized population and ecosystems.
She explained with the financial support from USACE, the river water treated through self-flushing filters has been used to raise aquatic animals at CRAC.
“Water quality is the most important factor affecting aquatic animal’s health and growth in aquaculture production systems,” Hua said. “We are able to monitor and achieve good water quality for the aquaculture using the water quality meters. The in-vitro culture laboratory at CRAC was developed and has been utilized to produce juvenile mussels in artificial medium.”
A total of 170,990 juvenile mussels encompassing 17 species were produced since 2016. Of those, 11 species are federally-listed endangered. Cracking perlymussel and rough pigtoe were highly rare and critical endangered species. The juvenile of these two species were produced for the first time in the country. Pale lilliput almost went extinct in Tennessee. In 2016, 4,000 juvenile mussels of lilliput were propagated and grown out of CRAC. Of those, 1,955 mussels of pale lilliput have been released into rivers in Tennessee since 2017, Hua added.
The TWRA team has released 18,600 mussels propagated at CRAC at multiple sites in Tennessee including the Duck River, Nolichucky River, Cumberland River, Sequatchie River, Clinch River, Pigeon River, Lick Creek, and Big Rock Creek since 2017. The aquatic center also works to monitor the restored populations.
“Monitoring of restored populations is an important and essential approach to evaluate the success of mussel release efforts, which has involved mark-recapture programs,” Hua said. “Recaptured mussels have exhibited great growth and good health.”
Hall said circumstances extended the period for using the mitigation funds, but the organizations involved pressed forward through the various challenges to ensure they were expended to benefit mussels and other species the aquatic center works to propagate and monitor.
“It’s amazing the work they are doing at the Cumberland River Aquatic Center and the awesome results they are achieving,” Hall said.
(For more information about the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District, visit the district’s website at http://www.lrn.usace.army.mil on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/nashvillecorps, in Instagram at http://www.instagram.com/nashvillecorps and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/nashvillecorps.)