‘Help us in this fight’: New boating laws aim to stop mollusks from invading local waters

ST. GEORGE — New boating laws went into effect earlier this month that impact out of state boaters and mandate all drain plugs be removed from a watercraft while being transported on Utah roadways.

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

The Utah Legislature passed House Bill 255, Boat Fee Amendments, as a means to continue fighting the potential spread of the invasive quagga mussel while also providing additional funding for it.

Since July 1, out-of-state boaters have started to pay a $20 fee for all motorized watercraft not registered in the state. Called an “aquatic invasive species mitigation fee,” out-of-state boaters are able to pay the fee after completing an online education course. This course details how boaters can prevent the spread of quagga mussels, according to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

A link to that online course and the payment portal are available on the STD of the Sea website and the DWR website.

Once the course is completed and payment received, boaters can print out a certificate to put on their launch vehicle. A version of the certificate can also be saved on the boater’s phone.

Money from the new fee goes to fund the state’s aquatic invasive species mitigation efforts.

Additionally, anyone transporting a boat on any Utah roadway is now required to remove all drain plugs from the boat and drain all water from the live wells, bilges, ballast tanks or other similar compartments on the watercraft. Individuals who fail to comply with this measure may be cited with a class C misdemeanor which carries a penalty of up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $750.

Watercraft with systems that cannot be fully drained must complete 30 days of dry time or undergo professional decontamination prior to launching into any Utah waterbody.

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

“We feel confident that these new changes and our continued rigorous inspections across the state will help us in our efforts to contain quagga mussels to Lake Powell, Lake Mead and other infested waters, and to prevent them from spreading to other waterbodies,” Nathan Owens, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Aquatic Invasive Species Coordinator, said in a statement. “However, we really need the assistance and compliance of boaters in these efforts. We are grateful to all those who are willing to help us in this fight.”

The law also directs the DWR to study the options and feasibility of implementing an automated system that can scan, photograph and provide real-time information about when a boat last entered a Utah waterbody and when the boat was last decontaminated. The study will be presented by Nov. 30, and a pilot program will be launched before May 1, 2021.

In addition to complying with the new laws, 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.
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

Boaters should also remember that by state law they are required to stop at open inspection stations after leaving a waterbody. Anyone who doesn’t stop may be cited with a class B misdemeanor, which can carry a penalty of up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

Utah maintains over 40 inspection and decontamination sites across the state. In Southwest Utah, these stations are located at the Port of Entry on Interstate 15 at the Utah-Arizona border and Sand Hollow State Park.

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.


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

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