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Dam construction leads to 'irreversible' habitat destruction that threatens several species: 'These unique freshwater mussels are found nowhere else in the world'

"Saving these mussels isn't just about preserving the biodiversity of the region."

"Saving these mussels isn’t just about preserving the biodiversity of the region."

Photo Credit: USFWS

Infrastructure provides many benefits to society, such as allowing for the transportation of goods and services and giving access to work or recreation for communities. 

The construction of dams, for example, can help generate power or allow for crucial water storage. 

However, sometimes dams can also threaten vital resources and animal species. 

What's happening?

The Austin American-Statesman reported that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has listed six types of freshwater mussels as endangered in Central Texas due to the continued impacts of urbanization and a warming planet. Another mussel species has been listed as threatened.

The impact of the construction of over 100 major dams to make reservoirs from 1900 to 1970 is seen as a leading cause of reduced mussel populations because of their disruption to river ecosystems. Per the American-Statesman, the Fish and Wildlife Service said this infrastructure resulted in "irreversible changes" to river flow while also damaging water quality and destroying animal habitats. 

Around 1,500 miles of rivers within 31 counties, including the Colorado and Trinity river basins, have been defined as "critical habitats" for the mussels. This extends all the way down to the San Antonio area and the Gulf Coast. 

The habitat designation doesn't affect most actions of private landowners across the areas, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has stated it will establish agreements with relevant parties to enhance habitat conservation efforts

"These unique freshwater mussels are found nowhere else in the world but in the rivers and streams of Central Texas. Saving these mussels isn't just about preserving the biodiversity of the region; it also helps protect the waterways that people rely on for water and recreation," Amy Lueders, the Fish and Wildlife Service's Southwest regional director, said in a release cited by the news outlet. 

Why is habitat conservation important?

Infrastructure has negatively impacted population numbers for mussels and other freshwater species over the years. According to the group American Rivers, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has cataloged at least 90,000 dams over six feet that block rivers and streams, which have impacted aquatic animals and river ecosystems. 

Habitat conservation is about protecting and restoring the natural environments that wildlife and plants need to thrive. It's a crucial part of maintaining biodiversity and ensuring that ecosystems remain balanced and healthy. 

According to the United States Energy Information Administration, a dam can change natural water temperatures, water chemistry, river flow, and silt loads. As dams can trap sediment, burying rock riverbeds where fish spawn, this changes the way rivers function and impacts fish levels as a food supply for communities.

What's being done about it? 

As the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has claimed that water and habitat quality will be maintained, efforts are being made to ensure animal welfare thrives. 

Another example of water and habitat improvement is the removal of restrictive dams in Colorado, which has allowed trout to swim freely to their spawning grounds. 

Ecosystem restoration has also been achieved with the reintroduction of Przewalski's horse in Mongolia, which has led to a thriving population of nearly 1,000 wild horses. These efforts benefit not only the animals but also local communities. 

Every day, citizens can do their part to preserve marine life, such as switching to natural cleaning products to reduce the chances of polluting waterways with harmful chemicals.

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