Quagga mussels: Over 5,700 boats checked, 54 citations issued for ‘STD of the sea’ over holiday weekend

ST. GEORGE — Watercraft inspection points across Utah were busy over the Memorial Day weekend, as over 5,700 boats were inspected for possible signs of quagga mussels, an invasive aquatic species also known as the “STD of the sea.”

Boat inspection station at Lake Powell, date not specified. | Photo courtesy of Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, St. George News

Aquatic invasive species technicians with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources inspected 5,718 boats statewide and performed 142 decontaminations. DWR conservation officers also cited 54 people who violated Utah’s laws to prevent the spread of invasive mussels, according to a press release from the DWR.

Jonathan Hunt, Sand Hollow State Park manager, told St. George News that over the last week, they have inspected nearly 1,400 boats and watercraft, with 54 decontaminations conducted.

No citations were issued at Sand Hollow, as those are generally issued when a boat owner hasn’t drained the water out of their boat after visiting a waterbody infested with quagga mussels like Lake Powell, Lake Mead or Lake Havasu. They can also be cited for failing to stop for inspections.

The majority of those cited over the holiday weekend were cited at Lake Powell – 42 in all.

DWR technicians at Lake Powell inspected a total of 1,319 boats between Friday and Monday. Nearly 120 boats had mussels on them and were decontaminated at Lake Powell as well.

The prop on this boat motor at Lake Mead is covered with quagga mussels, date not specified. | Photo courtesy of Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, St. George News

“In order to keep our Utah waters mussel free, we need public support and compliance,” DWR Aquatic Invasive Species Operations Sgt. Krystal Tucker said in a statement.

“Individuals with any watercraft who are traveling past an open inspection station are required to stop so our technicians can conduct an inspection for quagga mussels,” Tucker said. “All motorists traveling by an administrative checkpoint have to stop to make sure they are complying with invasive species laws. Our goal is to stop the spread of invasive mussels in order to protect Utah’s waters, so they remain accessible to the public and continue to provide incredible recreational opportunities for everyone.”

Activity at Lake Powell and the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area has picked up in previous weeks as the National Park Service has gradually reopened the area previously shut down due to COVID-19 concerns.

While Lake Powell was closed, Hunt said, there weren’t as many boats coming to Sand Hollow that needed to be washed. However, now that its open up for boating once more, Sand Hollow is expecting a large increase in boaters this weekend who had been at Lake Powell over Memorial Day.

Quagga mussels encrusting a boat’s surface, date and location not specified. | Photo courtesy of Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, St. George News

“Our guys are washing boats from sun up to sun down,” Hunt said. “It’s something we’ll continue doing all summer long.”

Utah has over 40 inspection stations located at various waterbodies across the state. This includes stations at Quail Creek and Gunlock state parks. If technicians there find a boat that needs to be decontaminated, it is sent to either to Sand Hollow or the Interstate 15 Port of Entry.

A map of decontamination stations across Utah can be found on the DWR website.

Utah water and wildlife officials hope to keep the quagga mussel infestation contained to Lake Powell due to the potential damage it can cause to boats, infrastructure and the native environment and species.

Issues that arise due to the quagga mussels, according to the DWR, include the following:

  • Plugged water lines, even lines that are large in diameter.
  • If they get into water delivery systems in Utah, it will cost millions of dollars annually to remove them and keep the pipes clear, which can result in higher utility bills.
  • They remove plankton from the water, which hurts fish species in Utah.
  • Mussels get into a boat’s engine cooling system. Once they do, they’ll foul the system and damage the engine.
  • When mussels die in large numbers, they create a strong odor, and the sharp shells of dead mussels also can cut the feet of people on the beaches.

The mussels were found in Lake Powell around 2013 and in Lake Mead in 2007. They have also been infesting the Great Lakes since the 1990s.

Sand Hollow Reservoir, Hurricane, Utah, June 28, 2016 | File photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

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.

In a play on words, the mussels have been called the “STD of the sea” – a “skiff-transmitted disease” – due to its tendency to be transported to new bodies of water by boats that haven’t been decontaminated.

The quagga mussel issue has even made it to the Utah Legislature, which passed legislation earlier this year that will require out of state boaters to pay an annual “aquatic invasive species mitigation fee” of $20 before being allowed to boat on Utah waters starting July 1.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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