Revolutionary new method joins the fight against invasive mussels.
For almost three decades now, conservationists in states with massive lake and river water resources have lost the battle against two invasive mussels—the quagga and the zebra. Since spring arrived and recreational boaters and water users are putting their boats into the water, Utah is bringing an important new weapon to the fight May 1. The new system will lead the way in the massive fight against the water-killing mussels.
The zebra mussel first arrived in the Great Lakes in 1986, released in ocean-going ship ballast water. By 1990 the mussels invaded the Erie Canal and Lake Ontario, and have since spread to the entire Mississippi River basin. They continue to spread.
On April 20 in Georgia, a state currently free of the invasives, owners of a boat taken to Lake Lanier after it was used on the Tennessee River near Chattanooga spotted zebra mussels on the boat and called DNR. Their boat was then cleaned, drained and dried.
Watercraft, unchecked for mussel activity, spread the invasives far and wide. Recently in Montana, Fish and Wildlife inspectors found dry and dead mussels on a boat purchased in Minnesota and bound for Washington. For a tiny species that reproduces by millions, fearing its further invasion has been chilling since zebras and quaggas have arrived Western state waters. By 2007 they already had infested Lake Mead, Lake Mohave, Lake Powell and Lake Havasu.
“In just one day, mussels can enter a live-well or attach to a boat’s hull or transom,” according Tom Woolf, Montana Aquatic Invasive Species chief. That’s why it’s critical to make sure boats are clean, drained and dry when leaving the water. By early April, his department had intercepted six mussel-fouled boats at the Anaconda watercraft inspection station.
On a related note, earlier this year nearly every state and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service warned aquarium users that invasive zebra mussels had been discovered in widely-sold and used moss balls. The danger remains so significant that Wyoming’s Game and Fish Department, with Trout Unlimited, and other sponsors have launched a buy-back program for all aquarium moss balls, any of which could have the invasive zebra mussels.
Why are these invasive cousins so scary?
That’s because they are small, rapidly colonizing filter-feeders that extract huge amounts of plankton, removing a major food source, substantially clearing water, and increasing photosynthesis in bottom-dwelling plants which often stimulate aquatic and invasive weeds and cyanobacteria blooms.
They attach to surfaces with an extremely strong byssal thread, and foul and clog water pipes, water treatment plants and dam turbines. They boost toxic algae, costing taxpayers millions annually. Toxins in their flesh become poisonous, killing thousands of birds in the Great Lakes. Both quagga and zebra mussels can stay alive out of water for up to 20 days. Stopping their spread is a tireless job for those inspecting boats and recreational watercraft.
One small bright spot is found in Louisiana where there is one, just one, natural predator: the Louisiana freshwater drum, which has been called the most disrespected fish in Louisiana. Perhaps its reputation will change. Diving ducks are also known to eat them.
Mussels are controlled with high temperature or steam, chlorination, molluscicides and scraping, and this is where the newest weapon in the fight appears. In Utah, the Division of Wildlife Resources, with Clean Wake LLC, the National Park Service at Glen Canyon and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and other sponsoring agencies is putting the first-of-its-kind dip tank into use May 1.
The method may revolutionize boat decontamination against the invasive mussels. It has currently been transported to Lake Powell for its operational debut.
After watching the slow decontamination process in a variety of boats with a variety of intake systems, one boat owner had a better idea and collaborated with the DWR aquatic invasive species team. This led to the creation of a dip tank, pumphouse and heating filtration system. Instead of inspectors climbing around and under boats to spray hot water for decontamination, boaters back their watercraft into a 14-foot wide, 5-foot deep diptank of 110-degree water to thoroughly flush the intake system. The tank has built-in guiding tracks to help boaters back their watercraft into the tank.
The filtration and pump system turn over water in the tank every two hours to keep it clean. The whole decontamination only takes about five minutes.
"This new system will be a tremendous asset in our efforts to stop the spread of invasive quagga mussels," said Nate Owens, DWR Aquatic Invasive Species coordinator. "It will involve decontaminating boats with complex systems much faster, will require less training for our staff, will be more effective at ridding complex systems of quagga mussels and will ensure less damage to boats.
“We are so grateful for the ingenuity of Clean Wake LLC, our partnership with various agencies and the legislative funding and support that have made this possible. This is the first time this method is being used anywhere in the U.S., and we are excited to partner with the National Park Service at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area to create a better experience for boaters at Lake Powell."
The new dip tank will be utilized at Lake Powell, primarily for wakeboard boats with complex systems. Standard hot-water spot decontaminations will continue to be utilized for other boats leaving Lake Powell. Both the dip tank and standard decontaminations are free to boaters.
There’s more to learn more about invasive mussels and Utah’s innovative and game-changing system before traveling with your boat. Click here for more information.
– Resources: Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Aquatic Invasive Species Bureau, Menace to the West Oregon Sea Grant, Louisiana Sea Grant, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, USFWS.