In 1998, there was a massive die-off of zebra mussels in Seneca Lake, which John Halfman, associate professor of geoscience, has studied closely. Now this study is coming in handy for Rochester residents, who recently completed a survey on their tap water. Residents complained of musty-tasting and smelling water, which Halfman says could be the result of the dead mussels.
“The decomposition of dead zebra mussels, in sufficient numbers, can result in taste and odor issues in small lakes,” said Halfman in the Feb. 18 Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. “Bacteria breaks down the organic matter in the dead mussels, which floods nutrients into the water column, which in turn feed algae blooms. Some forms of algae impart an earthy or musty taste to the water.”
“Massive die-offs occur when the first generation of mussels reaches the end of its lifespan, at age 5 or 6. Successive die-offs are not as dramatic, since the age of the newer zebra mussels varies and their subsequent deaths are staggered over a number of years,” said Halfman. He is on the Board of Directors of the Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association, a citizen watchdog group, and is on the Oversight and the Educational Committees of the Seneca Lake Area Partners in Five Counties, a watershed management and protection alliance.
Halfman received his B.S. from the University of Miami magna cum laude, his M.S. from the University of Minnesota, and his Ph.D. from Duke University. Before joining the faculty at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in 1994, he taught in the Department of Earth Sciences and in the Department of Civil Engineering and Geological Sciences at the University of Notre Dame.