ST. GEORGE — The quagga mussel infestation at Lake Powell has worsened this season due to higher water levels, according to state officials.
In order to keep the mussels contained, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources has increased the number of staff and inspection stations at popular recreation sites starting this holiday weekend.
“The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is boosting its inspection and decontamination capacity along the routes leaving Lake Powell to more efficiently meet boater needs,” the DWR stated in a press release. “Additionally, law enforcement is increasing its efforts to identify violators and cite them when necessary.”
Part of the issue is related to rising water levels at Lake Powell caused by the large volume of melted snowpack left by an exceptionally wet winter. The rising levels have caused previously exposed mussels to dislodge from their perches and float freely in the water where they have the potential to be picked up by significantly more boats than last year.
Because of the threat the quagga mussels pose, state officials say it is critical that any watercraft leaving the lake be inspected for signs of the mussels and decontaminated accordingly.
This includes motorboats and sailboats, jet skis and wave runners, canoes, kayaks, float tubes, trailers and any vehicle that enters the water at the boat ramp. In short, if a mussel can stick to it, it needs to be inspected.
DWR technicians and law enforcement are asking the public to be patient during the inspection process, especially during busy holidays and weekends.
Why are quagga mussels such a big deal?
Quagga mussels are an invasive species that can wreak havoc on water service infrastructure and native ecology.
Quagga mussels can negatively impact water infrastructure by plugging up water lines because they reproduce quickly and cluster together. That can affect anything from drinking water to irrigation to water treatment facilities. DWR Lt. Scott Daledout previously stated Utahns would likely pay for quagga removal through higher utility bills.
Due to these issues, the quagga mussel has also become something of a boogeyman for the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline project.
Besides affecting water infrastructure, quagga mussels remove plankton necessary for some sport and native fish, they damage boat engine cooling systems and when they die in large numbers, they emit a foul odor and their sharp shells can cut bare feet on the beach.
The mussels were discovered in Lake Powell around 2013 and in Lake Mead in 2007. They have also been infesting the Great Lakes since the 1990s.
In Washington County, officials with the Washington County Water Conservancy District say they take the matter of the quagga mussels very seriously and work hard to keep county waters free of the invasive species.
Additional mussel-fighting resources and personnel have been sent to Lake Powell and the surrounding area to help with inspections and the removal of mussels from watercraft. This includes a hot water spray-down that helps remove the mussels and their shells, thereby making it legal to transport the watercraft away from Lake Powell.
This is not a substitute for decontaminating a watercraft, however.
In addition to lake Powell, staffing at inspection stations is being increased to help with decontamination efforts at state parks along Interstate 15. This includes Sand Hollow, Yuba and Utah Lake state parks. Another station will be open at Hanksville in the coming weeks.
The inspection stations are mandatory. People who doesn’t stop at a station may be subject to misdemeanor violations and fines.
A complete list of all Utah decontamination stations can be found here.
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