By Jessica Cohen | For the Gazette
Before the City of Port Jervis can build its whitewater park, it will have to make sure the work won’t threaten the river’s mussels.
Don Hamilton, National Park Service chief of resource management for the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River, said he doubts that mussels will impede construction of the whitewater park.
However, a mussel study will likely be required by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which has primary jurisdiction over threatened and endangered species, he said.
That’s because construction will necessitate temporary dams.
In many other rivers, dams have interfered with and diminished reproduction of mussels that are essential to the river’s ecology.
Mussels are “filter-feeders.” Jamie Myers, biologist for the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River, calls mussels “nature’s kidney,” because they remove bacteria and other organic matter from the river and excrete clean water. Each mussel filters five gallons of water per day.
Mussels maintain the purity of the Delaware River. Consequently, said Hamilton, “the Delaware has no ‘dead areas,’ which are common in the Mississippi River because of excess nutrients from agriculture.”
In dead areas, algae blooms make water unlivable for fish.
Unfortunately, said Hamilton, “mussels are the most rapidly declining species in North America.”
Dams are problematic for mussels because, for their larval stage, they depend on migrating fish, particularly shad, eel, sea lamprey and striped bass. Each mussel species has co-evolved with particular kinds of fish for thousands of years.
Hamilton said the mussel study would identify any rare species of mussel in the area that would be “de-watered” to allow for heavy equipment to affix waterpark features to the river bottom. Rare species would be relocated to a suitable habitat.
If the section of river designated for the whitewater park was part of either the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River or the Middle Delaware National Scenic River, it’s likely that no whitewater park would be allowed, Hamilton said, because hardened banks are prohibited. But the Port Jervis stretch of river lies on seven miles between the two designated Scenic and Recreational sections, which total 153 miles.