Boaters: Take steps to avoid spread of quagga mussels

(Wayne Gustaveson/Utah Division of Wildlife Resources
Utah Division of Wildlife Resources technician Roas Hoban examines a boat...
Story by Standard-Examiner staff
May 14, 2013
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Searchers are still finding quagga mussels at Lake Powell, and as Memorial Day weekend gets closer, boaters need to be aware of a three-step process they must put their boats through if they have been on the lake.

So far this spring, searchers have found more than 115 quagga mussels attached to boats and boat docks at the Wahweap and Antelope Point marinas at the lake in Southern Utah. Larry Dalton, aquatic invasive species coordinator for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, said searchers will likely find more mussels as they continue looking.

“No matter where you boat in Utah,” Dalton said, “it’s absolutely vital that you clean, drain and dry your boat and any equipment that comes in contact with the water.”

Once mussels establish themselves in a body of water, he said it’s extremely difficult, expensive and sometimes impossible to remove them.

To reduce the chance that boaters accidently transport mussels from Lake Powell to other bodies of water in Utah, they must begin a three-step decontamination process before leaving the lake. First, clean all mud, plants, mussels and other debris off of your boat. Also, drain all of the raw water from the boat’s bilge, live and bait wells, ballast tanks and lower engine unit.

After completing the first two steps, you can legally leave the lake to travel into or through Utah where you must complete a third step: Drying your boat at home or having the boat serviced at a professional decontamination station.

Quagga and zebra mussels move from water to water by attaching themselves to boats and other equipment that comes in contact with the water.

Cleaning, draining and drying your boat, and any recreational equipment that comes in contact with the water, is the key to eliminating the mussels.

“You can do this yourself,” Dalton said, “and it won’t cost you a thing.”

First, remove all of the plants, mud or animals from your boat’s exterior and interior by wiping the exterior and interior clean. Next, drain all the water from places in your boat where it may have accumulated. This includes the ballast tanks, the bilge, live and bait wells, and the motor. Even coolers that contain water from the lake should be drained.

The first two steps should be done immediately after pulling your boat out of the water and up the launch ramp.

“Going through these steps should become as routine as securing your boat to its trailer,” Dalton said.

Then, dry your boat and any equipment that got wet at home or where you store it. Drying time should be 18 days in spring and fall, seven days in summer, and 30 days in winter. Temperatures that drop below 32 degrees for three straight days will also kill the mussels.

If you’d like to put your boat on the water before the drying times allow, you’ll have to get it professionally decontaminated. Decontamination equipment is available at most of Utah’s popular boating waters, and the service is usually free. When you get your boat decontaminated, a certified operator will wash it inside and out with scalding hot water.

Mussels can plug water lines, even very large diameter ones. Dalton said widespread infestation by quagga or zebra mussels could cost Utahns more than $15 million each year to maintain water delivery systems.

“That cost would likely be passed on to you in the form of higher utility bills,” he said.

Mussels remove plankton from the water column — the same plankton that support Utah’s sport fish and native fish. The mussels could devastate fisheries in Utah. They can also damage boats by attaching themselves to the hull and fouling the engine cooling system. And, when mussels die in large numbers, their sharp shells can foul beaches and cut your feet as you walk along the beach.

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