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.
SOUTH LAKETAHOE - 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 out to different public and private boat launches around the lake to conduct boat checks when owners approve.
Today, 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 a boat inspection.
These inspections are the first line of defense against the devastating mussels 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 have never been completely eradicated from a large water source, said David Britton and assistant aquatic nuisance species coordinator for the southwest region of the U.S. Fish & 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 the TRPA.
While TRPA has taken the lead in creating a plan for the inspections, the 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 habits 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 the TRCD. "We'll also be educating them about the risks."
Inspectors will also 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, department spokeswoman Alexia Retallack said.
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 is also 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 is also purchasing moveable boat washes to station at different boat launch points. The boat washes, which consist of a boat 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 a washing of 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.
Laws regarding invasive species
or zebra mussels
Federal Law: U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service
• Lacey Act (18 USC 42-43, 16 USC 3371-3378): Importation or shipment of injurious mammals, birds, fish (including mollusks and crustacean), amphipia, and reptiles; permits, specimens for museums; regulations
A.1. The importation into the United States, any territory of the United States, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, or any possession of the United States, or any shipment between the continental United States, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, of the mongoose of the species Herpestes auropunctatus; of the species of so-called 'flying foxes' or fruit bats of the genus Pteropus; of the zebra mussel of the species Dreissena polymorpha; and such other species of wild mammals, wild birds, fish (including mollusks and crustacean), amphibians, reptiles, brown tree snakes, or the offspring or eggs of any of the foregoing which the Secretary of the Interior may prescribe by regulation to be injurious to human beings, to the interests of agriculture, horticulture, forestry, or to wildlife or the wildlife resources of the United States, is hereby prohibited. All such prohibited mammals, birds, fish (including mollusks and crustacean), amphibians, and reptiles, and the eggs or offspring therefrom, shall be promptly exported or destroyed at the expense of the importer of consignee. Nothing in this section shall be construed to repeal or modify any provision of the Public Health service Act or Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. Also, this section shall not authorize any action with respect to the importation of any plant pest as defined in the Federal Plant Pest Act, insofar as such importation is subject to regulation under that Act.
California ANS Laws
• California Fish and Game Code (22.214.171.1240-2272)
No live aquatic plant or animal may be imported into the state without prior written approval of the department pursuant to regulation adopted by the commission.
•California Food and Agriculture Code (126.96.36.199.6048-6049)
It is illegal to possess Hydrilla verticillata.
Nevada ANS Laws
• Nevada Department of Wildlife
Miscellaneous Protective Measures (Chapter 503)
Prohibits the importation, transportation or possession of a specific list of live wildlife.
• Nevada Department of Agriculture Noxious Weed Abatement Statutes (NAC Chapter 555)
Establishes laws for the Active quarantine and eradication of listed noxious weeds.