Agencies warn boaters about mussels - East Valley Tribune: News

Agencies warn boaters about mussels

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Posted: Saturday, October 11, 2008 7:12 pm | Updated: 8:45 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Aided by unsuspecting boaters and anglers, the quagga mussel, which threatens water and hydroelectric power operations, is spreading east from the lower Colorado River, and suppliers of Valley water and power are seriously concerned.

VIDEO: SRP scientists search for invasive mussels

Aided by unsuspecting boaters and anglers, the quagga mussel, which threatens water and hydroelectric power operations, is spreading east from the lower Colorado River, and suppliers of Valley water and power are seriously concerned.

The Central Arizona Project, which supplies water from the Colorado River to central and southern Arizona, has been battling the quagga mussel infestation since early 2007, when the species was first discovered to have infiltrated the water at Lake Havasu. That has resulted in a substantial increase in maintenance costs in its water delivery operations, said Al Graves, senior maintenance engineer with the CAP.

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Given the potential for increased costs to its own operations, Salt River Project along with state and federal agencies are reaching out to boaters and anglers throughout Arizona with the "don't move a mussel" public awareness campaign which asks them to take steps to help prevent quagga mussels and other aquatic hitchhikers from spreading to other lakes.

According to information from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, quagga mussels are small, about the size of a fingernail, and have a hard outer shell.

Adult mussels attach themselves to any hard surface that is submerged and stationary, and live for about two years.

The spread of mussels from one body of water to another is believed to be primarily through watercraft that have been transported overland. Adult quagga mussels can survive out of water for weeks and larvae can remain alive for about three days on surfaces such as trailers, hulls, in a boat's livewell, bilges and other surfaces.

A single female can produce 1 million eggs in a year. Fertilized eggs become free-floating larvae called veligers and are carried with the current for up to five weeks before settling on underwater surfaces.

Quagga mussels were first discovered at Lake Mead in January 2007, according to literature published by the Fish and Wildlife Service. They have quickly spread to lakes along the lower Colorado River, including Lake Havasu, where CAP pumps water into its aqueducts through the Mark Wilmer pumping plant.

Because mussels attach to hard surfaces such as concrete and pipes, the CAP pumping plant has been especially affected by the infestation. Graves says small pipes used to draw water from the lake to cool the pumps at the plant are more susceptible to becoming fouled by the mussels.

"If cooling systems fail ... then you have a shutdown of the plant," Graves said.

In July, divers spent a week clearing the mussels from the water inlet pipes at the Mark Wilmer pumping plant, removing 12 cubic yards of shell material, about four dump truck loads, Graves said.

He estimates the weeklong maintenance project in July at the pumping plant cost a minimum of $50,000.

Alternatives to the maintenance aren't cheap or practical, he said. One idea would be to install auxiliary systems that chemically treat the water before it is used in the cooling systems.

Click for full version
Quagga Mussels: Indigenous to the Ukraine, Quagga Mussels were first spotted in the Great Lakes in 1989. Since then, they have become an invasive species in many U.S. waterways. Scott Kirchhofer/TRIBUNE, SOURCE: U.S. Geological Survey

That particular idea would require each pumping plant to have new plumbing installed that would not allow treated water to return to the lake, and that would be extremely expensive, he added.

"CAP is practicing due diligence in dealing with this problem," Graves said. "We don't have the answers yet on how to deal with this problem. We are making scientific, rational decisions and not just throwing money at it."

Larry Riley with the Arizona Game and Fish Department said it is likely boaters and anglers picked up the microscopic quagga veligers on boat hulls and trailers when visiting infested waterways on the Colorado River, helping in the spread into other Arizona waters such as Lake Pleasant.

He said the quagga mussels were first discovered to have reached Lake Pleasant in December 2007 and have spread within the lake faster than anyone had anticipated. This speedy expansion of the invasive mussel at the lake is probably due to the Arizona climate with lots of sun and warm conditions, Riley added.

The infestation at Lake Pleasant has already caused problems for boat owners.

Dana Bodnar, owner of Bodnar Boat Works at Lake Pleasant, says about half the boats coming in for service this year have been affected by the spread of quagga mussels into the lake. Just this week, he has a houseboat out of the water and is scraping thousands of mussels off of its bottom, he said.

Don Peyser, an outboard technician working for Pleasant Harbor Marina, said mussels that attach to hulls of boats can cause serious damage.

If the hull is fiberglass,the mussels can penetrate through the gel coat and the fiberglass will become soaked with water.

To clean mussels from a boat's hull, the boat has to come out of the water, be scraped and repainted, said Peyser. Depending on the size of the boat, that service can cost thousands of dollars, he added.

Mussels can further frustrate boat owners when the microscopic quagga larvae attach to the water inlets for the sea pumps which are used to cool marine engines. Eventually, the mussels will clog any passage belowthe waterline, which will cause the engine to overheat, Peyser said.

Although some of the water SRP delivers to the Valley originates at Lake Havasu and Lake Pleasant, officials with the utility said no adult quagga mussels have been found in its water delivery system.

In June, SRP began monitoring its reservoirs and dams along the Salt and Verde rivers for early signs of the invasive quagga mussel. Waters on Lake Powell, which supplies water to SRP's Navajo Generating Station, also are closely monitored.

"Once (mussels) are established in a body of water, there is no way to get rid of them," said Lesly Swanson, a biologist with SRP.

If the mussels are allowed to establish themselves in an SRP reservoir, then the utility's main concern is downstream - with increased maintenance costs at dams and in canal operations, Swanson added.

In addition to monitoring, SRP is coordinating efforts with state Game and Fish, the U.S. Forest Service and Tonto National Forest to promote the public's awareness of the quagga mussel threat.

Through the "don't move a mussel" campaign, the partnership is asking all boaters and anglers throughout the state to limit the spread of the quagga mussels and other aquatic invaders by taking precautionary steps each time they visit a waterway within the state.

Between launches, boaters and anglers are asked to clean the hull of their boat and trailer with high pressure water, removing all plant and animal material. Also, boaters should drain the water from livewells and the lower unit.

Additionally, day boaters are urged to wait five days before launching their boats at another location, especially if they have been to Lake Pleasant or any waters along the lower Colorado River and are planning to use lakes on the Salt or Verde rivers or Lake Powell.

In the near future, a certification program, similar to that already in place at the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, that ensures a watercraft is mussel free before launching, may be necessary on all SRP reservoirs, Swanson said.

According to Max King with the National Parks Service, the certification program first identifies where the boat has been.

If it is determined to have been in states with mussel infestations, the owner is required to have the boat inspected and decontaminated at an onsite station.

If during inspection live mussels are found, the launching of the vessel is prohibited for five days or until a biologist certifies it is has been adequately decontaminated.

Any boater not displaying a certificate issued by the National Park Service can be fined $5,000.

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