Mussels in Utah: So far, so good

Not spreading mussels and detecting them early are keys to
success

Quagga and zebra mussels have devastated fishing waters, plugged
water delivery systems and ruined boats all across the nation.

But those things haven’t happened in Utah. How come?

Counterattack

In 2007, the Utah Legislature, the Division of Wildlife
Resources and several statewide partners launched a massive effort
to keep mussels from doing the same things in Utah.

Larry Dalton, aquatic invasive species coordinator for the DWR,
says so far the effort has been successful.

Since 2007, evidence that quagga or zebra mussels might be in
Utah has been found in eight waters. However, as of January 2012,
only one of those waters is still classified as possibly having
mussels in it:

Lake Powell has not shown any evidence of quagga or zebra
mussels since inconclusive evidence that mussels might be in the
reservoir was found in 2007.

Inconclusive evidence that mussels might be in Joe’s Valley
Reservoir, Huntington North Reservoir, Pelican Lake and Midview
Reservoir was found in 2008. But DNA testing failed to confirm that
what appeared to be juvenile mussels also called veligers were
actually quagga or zebra mussels.

Since 2008, no DNA evidence or evidence of adult mussels or
veligers has been found in any of these waters.

“This is very good news for the state of Utah,” Dalton
says.

In 2008, DNA testing did confirm that juvenile mussels were present
in Electric Lake and Red Fleet Reservoir. But no evidence has been
found since that time.

“We’ll watch these waters closely to make sure the mussels
haven’t gained a foothold,” Dalton says.

Sand Hollow Reservoir in southern Utah is the only water in Utah
that’s still classified as having mussels in it.

An adult quagga mussel was found in the reservoir in 2010. And
recent DNA tests of the water indicate mussels might still be in
the reservoir.

“Fortunately,” Dalton says,” no more mussels or their veligers
have been found since the initial discovery in spring 2010. We’ll
monitor Sand Hollow closely for at least three more years.”

Keys to success

So why haven’t mussels gained a foothold in Utah?

Dalton credits the statewide effort that started in 2007.

“That effort has allowed us to decontaminate boats, including
boats that have mussels attached to their hulls,” he says.

He says the effort has also allowed biologists to detect the
presence of mussels early in a body of water. “If we find mussels
quick enough,” he says, “we can take measures that will lessen the
chance that more mussels are introduced to the water.

“If we can prevent additional mussels from being introduced to
the water, the mussel population that’s already in the water may
die off.”

Despite the good news, Dalton says the fight continues. “We
can’t afford to let our guard down,” he says. “If we let our guard
down, the results to the state of Utah could be catastrophic.”

Efforts since 2007

When invasive mussels were discovered in neighboring states in
2007, Utah’s natural resource managers immediately bolstered their
resources to fight back.

The National Park Service at Lake Powell and the DWR, aided by
the Utah Legislature and many statewide partners, put a small army
of boat inspectors on the ground at boat ramps across Utah.

(Boaters in Utah can’t launch their boats unless the boats have
been properly decontaminated to kill any mussels that might have
attached themselves to the boat.)

Laws were also changed to make it easier for DWR personnel to
check boats. And water sampling to monitor for the presence of
mussels began in waters across the state.

Those efforts, coupled with a significant outreach program that
informed boaters about the risks invasive mussels pose to Utah,
represent the core of the fight.

“Boaters listened,” Dalton says. “They joined the effort to
protect Utah’s complicated water delivery structure, the state’s
world-class, water-based outdoor recreation areas and the state’s
economically valuable sport fisheries.”

Dalton says his surveys show that more than 95 percent of the
state’s boaters understand the risks quagga and zebra mussels pose
to the state. “That explains why more than 80 percent of the
boaters say they always decontaminate their boats and other wet
equipment after every use,” he says.

“Certainly, Utah’s water managers understand the risk, too,
since they’re helping with the fight.”

Even though news from the mussel front is good, Dalton says Utah
cannot give up the fight. “Utah cannot afford a widespread
infestation of quagga or zebra mussels,” he says. “Not today. Not
ever.”

Why the concern?

The following are reasons why Utahns should be concerned about
quagga and zebra mussels:

Mussels can plug water lines, even very large diameter ones.

Dalton says widespread infestation by quagga or zebra mussels
could cost Utahns more than $15 million every year to maintain
Utah’s water delivery systems. “That cost would likely be passed on
to every citizen in the form of higher utility bills,” he
says.

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.

Mussels can damage your boat by attaching themselves to your boat’s
hull and fouling the boat’s engine cooling system.

When mussels die in large numbers, they stink. And their sharp
shells can cut your feet as you walk along the beaches where the
mussels died.

 

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