Muscling up against invasives
Editor’s note: This is the second in a four-part series examining invasive mussels and how they could affect Lake Tahoe’s ecosystem and economy.
A $1.3 million battle to keep invasive mussels out of Lake Tahoe’s waters is being waged by local, state and federal agencies.
It officially began May 16, when 13 inspectors were sent to different public and private boat launches around the lake to conduct boat checks when owners approve.
On Wednesday, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Governing Board will consider an amendment that subjects all boats to mandatory inspection. If the board passes that measure, all boats will be required to be inspected if asked or face a $5,000 fine if they choose to launch without complying with an inspection. If inspectors are not available, boaters can launch without an inspection.
These inspections are the first line of defense to prevent the devastating mussels from infiltrating Lake Tahoe.
Quagga and zebra mussels have destroyed lake ecosystems, economies and infrastructures across the United States since their introduction to the Great Lakes in Michigan in 1988. Once they invade a lake, they never have been completely eradicated from a large water source, said David Britton, an assistant aquatic nuisance species coordinator for the southwest region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“We are trying to get ahead of it,” said TRPA Executive Director John Singlaub.
Lake Tahoe’s inspection program is a collaboration of different agencies, including the Nevada Department of Wildlife, California Department of Fish and Game, the Tahoe Resource Conservation District (TRCD) and TRPA.
While TRPA has taken the lead in creating a plan for the inspections, TRCD implemented the plan by hiring the 13 inspectors.
The inspectors will be stationed at all public and some private launch points on the lake and will ask boaters questions about their recent boating to determine if a further inspection is needed.
“We’ll be asking questions like, ‘Where has your boat been?’ or, ‘How long has it been out of the water?’ ” said Nicole Cartwright, a conservation planner for the invasive-species program for TRCD. “We’ll also be educating them about the risks.”
Inspectors also will occasionally be using dogs trained to smell out mussels. There are 12 dogs stationed in California by the state Department of Fish and Game, and two of them will be in the Tahoe area, said department spokeswoman Alexia Retallack.
While the inspectors will have no enforcement capabilities, they hope to keep the lake safe from aquatic species, Cartwright said. If inspectors do find a mussel on a vessel, they will notify local law enforcement if a boater refuses to cooperate, said Dennis Zabaglo, senior environmental specialist and watercraft program manager for TRPA.
But Zabaglo and others say they hope a public outreach campaign will educate boaters about the danger of mussels and encourage them to comply with the rules.
“We are relying heavily on the public’s want and desire to keep these mussels out,” he said.
The public outreach campaign includes a billboard, television commercials and different pamphlets to hand out to boaters.
The TRCD has hired its inspectors for the season but also is looking for volunteers to help educate the public, said Jenny Francis, a TRCD program manager.
“This is a grassroots effort to keep the lake clean. We have to have everyone’s buy-in for this to happen,” Francis said.
The TRPA also is purchasing movable boat washes to station at different launch points. The boat washes, which consist of a vessel washing area and a high-pressure, hot-water washer, will arrive by the beginning of June, Zabaglo said.
In the meantime, Fallen Leaf Lake Marina will have a hot-water boat wash that can reach temperatures of 140 degrees to clean the exterior of the boat and flush the engines.
Marina Manager John Rich said he hasn’t usually encountered resistance from boaters when he inspects their vessels.
“If you take the time to talk to them, it’s always fine,” he said. “More people have heard about the issue than one might think.”
Fallen Leaf Lake Marina charges $5 for washing a hand-launched boat and $20 for larger vessels.
“We won’t be sending anything to Lake Tahoe,” he said. “We are maybe a step ahead of where the agencies have gotten to.”
The Truckee Agricultural Inspection Station on Interstate 80 also takes a hard look at each boat coming through to Lake Tahoe, said supervisor Bill Lowden.
“We’re looking at every boat that comes through,” Lowden said.
He said inspectors visually and sometimes manually inspect each boat and also require each boat to drain before it enters the area.
“We do a thorough inspection,” he said.