Quagga mussels: Utah boaters asked to help fight against invasive species

May 8, 2023, 12:26 PM | Updated: 1:19 pm

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LAKE POWELL, Utah — The snowpack from the winter of 2023 is the gift that keeps on giving for Utah boaters. And they’re salivating. But along with the enthusiasm, however, comes some personal responsibility in the ongoing battle against the invasive species known as quagga mussels. The infestation, now in its tenth year, has to this point, been contained to just Lake Powell waters.

Chief among those destinations is, of course, Lake Powell which is forecast to rise 70 feet or more from this year’s runoff.

Quagga mussel history

Quagga mussels are native to the Dneiper drainage of Ukraine and likely made their way to the U.S. and other parts of the world as an unwanted export through the Caspian Sea in Eastern Europe in the late 80s in the ballast water of ocean-going ships.

Those ships brought their goods and the not so goods into the Great Lakes of the United States, where they began their spread across America.

Western states like Utah have benefited from the lessons learned in this ongoing battle by watching how Lake Michigan and others have dealt with the infestation.

Tens of millions of dollars are spent annually to do whatever possible to limit the growth and spread of the mussel population. The invasive mussels damage all levels of the food chain, not to mention the critical infrastructure that can be brought to a screeching halt as the populations grow.

How the quagga mussels got here

It makes sense that if quagga could make the trip across the world from Eastern Europe it could easily make its way across the U.S. the same way.

They’re like hitchhikers —moving over one boat at a time.

The quagga was discovered in Nevada’s Lake Mead in 2007, California waters in 2008, and Lake Powell, likely infected in 2012, was officially classified as “infested” in 2014 sending alarm bells throughout the state’s wildlife officials and biologists. 

Bruce Johnson is an aquatic invasive species expert with the Division of Wildlife Resources. He told KSL Outdoors Show that, ironically, the severe drought conditions at Lake Powell may have helped to slow down the population growth. 

The mussels were attached to the lake’s canyon walls and were exposed to damaging sun and heat when the water elevation dropped. 

However, the battle is far from over and quite frankly may never be.

The best we can hope for is to contain the infestation to Lake Powell’s waters which today, a decade later, is working. Though, there was a brief scare in 2014 when a juvenile quagga known as a “veliger” was discovered after an inspection at Deer Creek Reservoir. 

But, it was found to be a single, dead mussel.

In his letter to boat owners across the state, Gov. Herbert says they are on the front lines of Utah's battle against quagga mussels.

FILE PHOTO (Natalie Boren, Utah Division of Wildlife Services)

How you can help

Johnson joined the KSL Outdoors Show to thank Utah boat owners for doing their part in the continuing efforts by stopping at administrative checkpoints throughout the boating season whenever they have recreated at Lake Powell. 

The first of those efforts is coming on June 2 from 9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. on the north side of I-70 at the Utah Department of Transportation weigh station, located at approximately milepost 186.

All watercraft taken along westbound on I-70 during that time are required to stop for inspection.

State law mandates that all watercraft stop at an inspection station that’s up and running. Anyone with a watercraft who doesn’t stop is guilty of a class B misdemeanor.

If you fail to stop, you’ll likely get a ticket and be directed back to an inspection station to get it taken care of. Watercraft can also be taken or quarantined if the owner refuses to submit to an inspection.

Johnson also reminds us all that “if it floats, it’s a boat” when it comes to inspections. Canoes, kayaks, float tubes, and paddleboards should be inspected, too.

There is also a website you can access with handy information anytime on what you can expect at these checkpoints throughout the season.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

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Quagga mussels: Utah boaters asked to help fight against invasive species