Boat inspections on tap for more Sierra waters | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Boat inspections on tap for more Sierra waters

Annie Flanzraich
aflanz@tahoedailytribune.com

TAHOE/TRUCKEE – A pilot program for vessel inspections to keep new invasive species out of the waters of the Sierra Nevada – and not just Lake Tahoe – is in development for the 2010 boating season.

The Tahoe Resource Conversation District recently received $231,000 from the Truckee Meadows Water Authority’s Truckee River Fund to develop a plan to inspect regional water bodies including Donner and Independence lakes, and Boca, Stampede and Prosser Creek reservoirs.

The district, which manages Tahoe’s inspections, will work with local resource conservation districts to implement similar inspections at the California lakes, said Nicole Cartwright, a TRCD conservation planner, adding that inspections could begin in May 2010.

“We’ll be mimicking the Tahoe protocols and expanding our knowledge of what we’ve done in the past,” Cartwright said.

Boat inspections became mandatory at Lake Tahoe in May 2008 after zebra mussels were found in San Justo Reservoir, about 250 miles away in California, in January 2008. Zebra mussels and their cousin quagga mussels can destroy the economy and ecology of water bodies by clogging infrastructure and disrupting the water column.

From November 2008 to November 2009, inspectors looked at about 12,800 vessels at Lake Tahoe.

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Lisa Wallace, executive director of the Truckee River Watershed Council, welcomed the inspections in the Truckee’s tributaries.

“We’re worried because of the export of mussels and clams from Lake Mead, which weren’t found in the inspection at Lake Mead, but were when the boats got to Tahoe,” Wallace said. “This will make it a lot easier for all land managers to have one entity coordinating inspections.”

The $231,000 will be used to research and design the future inspection program.

“(TMWA) feels that the introduction and the possible proliferation of quagga mussels, zebra mussels and other aquatic species could present a significant problem for our operations,” said Ron Penrose, TMWA project manager environmental engineer.

Funding sources to implement the inspections will need to be found, Cartwright said. Tahoe’s inspection program costs anywhere between $650,000 and $800,000 annually depending on the number of locations, staff and equipment needs, she said.

In Tahoe, TRCD’s inspections are backed up Tahoe Regional Planning Agency rule that makes boat inspections mandatory – boaters who do not comply could face civil ramifications and a $5,000 fine. However, Donner and Independence lakes, as well as Boca, Stampede and Prosser Creek reservoirs do not have the same kind of regulatory agency, which could help and hinder the inspection effort, Cartwright said.

“I think in the public eye it could be a good thing,” Cartwright said. “There isn’t this backlash of having someone telling you what to do and it’s more of a voluntary program. But from the logistics and resource management point of view, it’s going to be difficult to make the rules and make plans without regulatory backing.”

Eventually, TRCD and other agencies would like to work toward a unified inspection program for all regional waters, Cartwright said.

“I think statewide and regionally that’s everyone’s ultimate goal,” she said. “We would love to have all the western states to have a set protocol and procedure. It’s just a matter of how we get there.”

Ted Owens, supervisor for Nevada County’s 5th district, which contains Donner, Prosser, Boca and part of Independence Lake, said he’s in favor of inspections, and had been exploring options to protect area lakes over the last few months.

“I do strongly support this effort but have concerns about implementation, and intend to be involved in those discussions,” Owens said.

Inspections at other surrounding lakes could help Tahoe safe from invasive species, said TRPA Spokesman Dennis Oliver. A federal study says a mussel infestation could cost Tahoe’s economy $22 million annual in lost tourism and property tax revenue.

“Our goal is for Lake Tahoe to become the first lake in the U.S. to successfully stave off an invasion of quagga and zebra mussels,” Oliver said.

For TMWA, the $231,000 investment is a preventative step against the heavy cost of treating a water system that has been infected by invasive mussels. Quagga mussels were first introduced to the Great Lakes in the 1980s and have since cost local industries, businesses and communities more than $5 billion, according to U.S. Congressional research estimates.

“We are looking to prevent it to begin with,” Penrose said. “We want to prevent the mussels from getting established.”

– Greyson Howard contributed to this report.

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