ST. GEORGE — Starting this Friday, boat ramps at Lake Powell will begin to reopen as the National Park Service allows boating activity to gradually resume. With these reopenings and others over the next few weeks, watercraft inspections and decontamination procedures focusing on the invasive quagga mussel will also resume.
Decontaminations were temporarily suspended at Lake Powell due to COVID-19 concerns starting April 1, according to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. In place of the decontamination, a mandatory 30-day dry time was implemented by the DWR at Lake Powell and other Utah waters to help keep the invasive mussel from spreading.
The NPS closed boat ramps at Lake Powell on April 6, yet announced last week it will be reopening the main launch ramp at Bullfrog and the Wahweap launch ramp this Friday through Sunday from 7 a.m to 8 p.m. each day.
The ramps will be open sevens day a week with overnight use starting May 15, with the additional launch ramp at Hall Crossing opening that Friday through Sunday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. It will move to seven days a week with overnight use starting May 22.
“We continue to work closely with the Department of the Interior and all of our partners to phase-in reopening facilities and services,” William Shott, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area superintendent, said. “We are pleased that the majority of the 1.25 million acres that comprise Glen Canyon National Recreation Area has remained open and accessible during this difficult time, including Escalante, Orange Cliffs, Ferry Swale, Muley Point and other accessible backcountry.”
Additional information on boat ramp reopenings and COVID-19 restrictions that remain in effect at the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area can be found here.
Quagga mussels inspections and decontamination
When the launch ramps reopen to all boats, the DWR plans to repeal its emergency order and will implement modified inspections and decontamination protocols in order to maintain social distancing recommendations and not put any staff or boaters at risk of COVID-19. Other agency staff will also be performing the modified inspections and decontaminations at Lake Powell.
Jonathan Hunt, park manager for Sand Hollow State Park, previously told St. George News that quagga mussel inspections and decontamination are also currently being done at that location.
“Boaters should be aware that these modified protocols will take longer than a normal inspection or decontamination because they have been developed to minimize interaction between individuals,” said Nathan Owens, DWR’s aquatic invasive species coordinator.
“As a result, boaters will likely have longer wait times while exiting Lake Powell and also while launching at other Utah waterbodies.” Owen said.” We ask for your patience during this time, as protecting the health of our staff and the public, and preventing the spread of quagga mussels are both very important.”
Boaters will be asked not to approach staff performing the inspections and decontaminations, so social distancing recommendations can be maintained and neither individual is put at risk.
In addition to receiving an inspection when leaving Lake Powell, boaters can also help prevent the spread of quagga mussels by doing the following:
- Clean: Boaters should wipe all water, mud, plant materials and other debris from their boats. In particular, make sure to inspect the anchor and sea strainer.
- Drain: Boaters are required to pull all drain plugs and leave them out during transport and storage after boating on Lake Powell. All water should be completely drained from ballast tanks, bilges and live wells. Boaters with outboard or inboard/outboard engines should drop the lower unit to drain those areas, as well. Also, inspect the cooling intake or water system on the boat.
- Dry: All boats with ballast tanks, inboard engines or inboard/outboard engines retain water at all times, and, therefore, will need to meet a 30-day dry time if not professionally decontaminated.
What’s the deal with the mussels?
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.
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.
There are currently no known instances of the quagga mussels in Washington County reservoirs, and water and wildlife officials are hoping to keep it that way.
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