Invasive zebra and quagga mussels aren't in the Pacific Northwest yet, but hydropower managers on the Columbia River fear that if they reach the area, they'll spread uncontrollably, filling dam pipes and crowding out other wildlife.

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VANCOUVER, Wash. — Researchers in the Pacific Northwest plan to test whether a chemical coating they hope prevents invasive mussels from clogging dams will work on Lake Mead at the Arizona-Nevada border.

Invasive zebra and quagga mussels aren’t in the Pacific Northwest yet, but hydropower managers on the Columbia River fear that if they reach the area, they’ll spread uncontrollably, filling dam pipes and crowding out other wildlife.

Later this year, researchers from the Bonneville Power Administration and Portland State University will bring panels coated with a chemical solution to Lake Mead to see how the mussels themselves react, the Columbian of Vancouver, Wash., reported (http://bit.ly/Ig1PMG).

Lake Mead is about 30 miles southeast of Las Vegas.

With any luck, the force of water current alone will be enough to dislodge the mussels.

Researchers will finish placing nearly 900 small test panels at a Washington port on the Columbia River next week, beginning a three-year evaluation of how the treatment holds up in the water.

The latest work isn’t the first time Bonneville Power Administration and Portland State have turned their attention to quagga and zebra mussels.

A separate study placed mussels into transported Columbia River water to see how the creatures might acclimate to the Pacific Northwest.

That research is ongoing, said Mark Sytsma, a Portland State environmental-sciences professor.

“They’re not here yet,” Sytsma said. “That we know of.”

The mussels have encrusted dam structures and clogged pipes at Lake Mead and in the Great Lakes, requiring millions of dollars in management and mitigation efforts.

“We spend money on prevention, but that’s a lot cheaper than managing,” Sytsma said.

Local officials worry that mussels could cramp the Northwest’s hydroelectric facilities and irrigation systems connected to the Columbia. They may also crowd fish passage facilities built into the dams.

Last week, researchers spent a rainy Wednesday attaching test panels to the metal frames that will hold them in place off a dock at the Port of Camas-Washougal in Clark County.

The work will try out three silicon-based coatings on both steel and concrete, evaluated against two controls — concrete treated with a “Crystal Seal” used in the area now, and bare concrete.

A total of 27 frames will be assembled, each holding a few dozen randomly arranged test panels.

“We’re at least more ready than we were,” Sytsma said.