Quagga mussel found on boat at Lake Tahoe | NevadaAppeal.com

Quagga mussel found on boat at Lake Tahoe

Tanya Canino
Nevada Appeal News Service

A 32-foot cabin cruiser is in quarantine after Tahoe Keys Marina employees spotted a quagga mussel on the boat’s engine Friday.

“More than likely they were dead mussels,” said Dennis Zabaglo, the watercraft program manager for the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.

However, as a precaution, the California Department of Fish and Game decided to quarantine the boat until Sept. 3, Zabaglo said.

“The boat owner was very cooperative,” he said, adding that the owner is a South Tahoe resident who wishes to remain anonymous.

The boat had been to Lake Mead this summer, but had been decontaminated when it left Lake Mead and had been out of the water for 30 days, Zabaglo said.

Lake Mead, 30 miles south of Las Vegas, is infected with the invasive mussels, which were discovered in January 2007. The quagga mussel and its close cousin, the zebra mussel, can destroy ecosystems by encrusting surfaces with their shell. First discovered in the Great Lakes, the mussels have easily spread from watershed to watershed, causing billions of dollars nationwide to be spent on maintenance issues. Once the invasive mussels infect a body of water, there is not much hope of eliminating them from a lake.

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The TRPA, along with federal, state and local agencies, launched a $1.3 million battle this summer to keep the invasive quagga and zebra mussels out of Lake Tahoe, requiring mandatory boat inspections and sending out 17 inspectors to Lake Tahoe’s marinas and boat launches. Five boat washing stations are located around the Tahoe Basin as well.

Finding a mussel Friday afternoon was enough to alarm those monitoring the issue.

“It sure got people rolling,” Zabaglo said.

As the boat was being heisted from its travel-trailer about 2 p.m. Friday, marina employees spotted the quagga mussel and called for an inspector. Once the invasive hitchhiker was confirmed, the boat was taken to the TRPA’s boat washing station at its Stateline offices. However, the decision was made to keep it out of Lake Tahoe for a few more days, he said.

“You can never be 100 percent sure. My gut feeling is that they were dead,” Zabaglo said.

TRPA Spokesman Jeff Cowen said that the inspection system worked for Tahoe.

“We were relieved that the system is working. I don’t think we were overly surprised with the infestation level at Lake Mead. We weren’t shocked,” Cowen said.

This invasive mussel was discovered at a staffed boat launch, but TRPA staffers are worried about when boat launches are unstaffed. The bi-state agency sent a letter Aug. 8 to Tahoe marina and boat ramp owners, asking them to consider closing their boat launching facilities when there is not a qualified boat inspector present.

“The issue of the introduction of destructive invasive species to Lake Tahoe is a real and immediate threat and requires the combined efforts of all who recreate, manage and owe their livelihood to Lake Tahoe,” wrote Mara Bresnick, TRPA Governing Board chair, in the letter.

Zabaglo said most boat ramp operators understand the problem, but the logistics of training employees and staffing inspectors is another issue, especially for funding-strapped public facilities such as Sand Harbor or Lake Forest boat ramps.

“Everybody’s willing to do it. How are we going to accomplish it?” Zabaglo asked.

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