Over 16K boats in Utah inspected for invasive mussels over holiday weekend

ST. GEORGE — The Independence Day holiday weekend saw nearly 16,500 boats inspected for invasive quagga mussels statewide as Utah wildlife officials continued a campaign to keep Utah waters free of the water-borne invaders.

A Utah Division of Wildlife Resources staff member inspects a boat for signs of quagga mussels at a Lake Powell boat inspection station, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, St. George News

Between Friday and Monday, law enforcement officers and technicians with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources were busy inspecting a total of 16,497 boats and watercraft and decontaminated 322 of them, according to a press release from the DWR.

Approximately 55 citations were issued to boaters who either failed to stop for inspections or did not follow recommended decontamination procedures, such as draining water out of their boats after visiting mussel-infested waters like Lake Powell or Lake Mead.

Failing to stop for inspections or draining watercraft can result in a class C misdemeanor offense in Utah, which can carry a fine of up to $750 and 90 days in jail.

This year’s numbers are down compared to 2019, which saw over 20,000 inspections and nearly 600 decontamination. However, only 45 citations were issued that year, compared 55 this year.

Invasive quagga mussels, also known as the “STD of the Sea,” clustered together. The invasive species poses a threat to the ecology, water infrastructure and watercraft in the waterbodies it ends up infesting, Lake Powell, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, St. George News

Nearly half of the state’s citations were issued at Lake Powell where nearly 5,000 boats and watercraft were inspected over the holiday weekend. Nearly 60 boats were decontaminated and 25 citations were handed out.

Though inspection numbers were down over the holiday weekend, the DWR reports that overall inspections and accompanying decontaminations are up by 43%. Last year saw 125,540 inspections while 2020 has seen 179,300 thus far. These numbers are high despite a shortage of inspection staff caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Even dealing with adjustments due to COVID-19 and staff shortages, our personnel have managed to perform an incredible amount of inspections and continue to work extremely hard to prevent quagga mussels from spreading from Lake Powell,” DWR Sgt. Krystal Tucker said in the press release.

Utah currently employees over 40 inspection stations across the state at various waterbodies and on the highway. In Southern Utah, these locations include Sand Hollow State Park and the Port of Entry at the Utah-Arizona state line on Interstate 15.

A Sign warning about quagga mussels at Lake Powell, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, St. George News

Information on where someone may have gone boating previously in Utah is also tracked, said Candace Smith, park manager for Quail Creek State Park. This plays a role in whether a boat or watercraft needs to be inspected. If there is information in the system that someone went to Lake Powell where the quagga mussel infestation is present, they’ll be redirected to one of the area’s inspection stations.

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

Quagga mussel infestation is considered a hazard by state wildlife and water officials due to the negative impact they can have on the native environment, water infrastructure and watercraft where they take root.

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 can cut the feet of people on beaches.

The mussels were found in Lake Powell in 2013 and have continued to spread throughout the reservoir. A rise in the mussels this time last year prompted the DWR and Utah State Parks to increase boat inspections at Lake Powell in order to keep the aquatic invaders from reaching other waterbodies.

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

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