PAGE, Ariz. (ABC4 Utah) – After years of infestation of quagga mussel at Lake Powell, the mussels are now altering the landscape of the scenery with black shells attaching to rock walls. It’s not completely evident when water is high, but low levels reveal the mussel shells that continue to increase because the invasive species is multiplying at a remarkable pace. For years, park rangers fought to keep the mussels out of Lake Powell, but in 2013, the mission shifted to keep the mussels in the body of water.
“I knew what it meant to the rest of the Greater West if Lake Powell was to become infested. It’s a huge responsibility to help prevent the quagga mussels from leaving Lake Powell,” Collen Allen, the aquatic invasive species coordinator at Glen Canyon, said.
Colleen Allen poured time, energy and effort into making sure quagga mussels stayed away from Lake Powell. Neighboring Lake Mead has trillions of mussels to date, and Allen says the fact that this species can attatch to any surface with its bissel thread, even each other, means trouble for boaters.
“They are a filter feeder. First of all they filter all the nutrients out of the water, so essentially you have dead water,” Collen Allen, the aquatic invasive species coordinator at Glen Canyon, said.
The mussels are notorious for clogging boat intake systems which can eventually lead to overheating and a fire. The species can live for an extended period of time on a limited amount of water which makes boaters some of the largest transporters for the mussel. The quagga mussel is native to the Black and Caspian Seas out of the Ukraine, but Allen says became a major problem in the Great Lakes area several years ago. The first adult mussels were located on a houseboat on Lake Powell March 3, 2013.
“They also are very sharp. If you’re swimming in an infested area or walking along the beach they can cut your feet or hands. They also have a horrible smell when they start to die,” Collen Allen, the aquatic invasive species coordinator at Glen Canyon, said.
Park rangers have known for years there is no way to combat and control the quagga mussel population. It does not make sense to introduce another invasive species to try to fix the overpopulation, so those recreating have to be relied on to do their part. Allen says boaters need to clean, drain and dry. It means that boaters need to clean all mud and plants from your boat and trailer, drain water from bilges, ballasts, live wells and engines, and allow for the boat to dry before you launch into any other waterways.
The state of Utah has spent millions of dollars on prevention, and that includes the various boat checkpoints and drying documentation you get at marinas throughout the state. Boaters say they would rather have the mussels stay at Powell.
“I don’t want them up in the reservoirs where I am at. it’s already tough enough down here, they need to quarantine them,” Ben Neilson, a boater from Northern Utah, said.
The checkpoint inspections don’t take long, and in the end, Neilson believes they benefit Utahns.
“It’s going to be a little bit of a stop for you, but is it better or worse than down the road paying a bunch to get your engine cleaned out,” Ben Neilson, a boater from Northern Utah, said.
Besides Lake Powell, the only reservoir that is “suspect” for quagga mussels in Utah is Deer Creek State Park in Heber. The Department of Wildlife Resources hopes to keep it that way.