Look for invasive stowaways before launching at Lake Tahoe

Jen Schmidt/Nevada Appeal News Service Tim Lampe demonstrates how to clean boats to eliminate invasive aquatic species, such as quagga and zebra mussels, that could come from using boats in other bodies of water. The process should include draining, cleaning and drying live wells, bilges, buckets and outboard units.

Jen Schmidt/Nevada Appeal News Service Tim Lampe demonstrates how to clean boats to eliminate invasive aquatic species, such as quagga and zebra mussels, that could come from using boats in other bodies of water. The process should include draining, cleaning and drying live wells, bilges, buckets and outboard units.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the third in a four-part series examining invasive mussels and how they could affect Lake Tahoe's ecosystem and economy.

When Incline Village resident Will Brigham launched his boat at Ski Beach two weekends ago, he encountered a new inspection process.

Before he could launch his boat into Lake Tahoe, he was asked a few questions about his boating habits - part of an initiative by different Lake Tahoe agencies to keep invasive mussels out of the waters.

"I don't think it was inconvenient," he said. "I'm a believer in trying to keep Lake Tahoe preserved because I love it."

Invasive mussels could threaten the waters that Brigham and many other Tahoe enthusiasts love. Once they infest a water body, zebra and quagga mussels can catastrophically effect the ecosystem and economy. They can clog water delivery systems, destroy boat engines and intakes and when they die their sharp shells can make beaches virtually unusable.

Neither quagga or zebra mussels have been found in Lake Tahoe. Zebra mussels have been found as close as 250 miles away in San Justo reservoir in California and quagga mussels have been found in Lake Mead. Because of the proximity, officials are making a concerted effort to keep them out.

The first line of defense is getting boaters to comply with boat inspections happening at all private and some public piers around the lake. While the inspections are not mandatory (but may be after today's Tahoe Regional Planning Agency meeting), they are vital to keeping Lake Tahoe's waters clear.

"As boaters become aware of this problem they become more sympathetic," said TRPA Executive Director John Singlaub. "People should know that if they have contaminated boat they will be stopped and required to get it cleaned. The smart thing to do is if they have the potential of a contaminated boat is to turn it around and clean it out."

The onus to keep mussels out of the lake falls mainly on boaters, said Dennis Zabaglo, TRPA senior environmental specialist and watercraft program manager.

"Boating is the main push," Zabaglo said.

While a stronger emphasis is placed on boaters coming from out of the Tahoe region, Zabaglo said even people who have boats that stay in Tahoe year-round can be part of the process.

"You can tell all of your boater friends about the danger," he said. "Outreach is crucial."

Part of that outreach is a more than $18,000 campaign to educate the public about the dangers of the mussels. The TRPA and the Tahoe Resource Conservation District have spent $12,000 on a 30-second commercial airing in the basin area and $6,000 on a billboard on Highway 50 to alert boaters. They have also spent a significant amount of money on pamphlets and brochures as part of the $1.3 million campaign, Zabaglo said.

One of the main messages both organizations, and a working group of other state, local and federal agencies, is trying to push is to "clean, dry and drain" your boat.

"Clean after you leave, drain all the live wells and make sure everything is dry because the microscopic larvae can live in standing water," Zabaglo said.

So far the boat inspections at Incline's Ski Beach have been successful and not one boat has been turned away, said Incline Village General Improvement District General Manager Bill Horn. The district committed $20,000 to the overall project.

"We felt like it was the right thing to do by working with them to make sure that the inspections go as smoothly as possible," Horn said.

He said the district will try to do inspections as effectively as possible to avoid a back-up onto Lakeshore Drive. Boats will be inspected after they pass through the launch's kiosk. If a mussel is found on a boat, it will be refused entry, Horn said.

Private pier owners are also taking responsibility to prevent the spread of quagga and zebra mussels said Jan Brisco, executive director of the Tahoe Lakefront Owner's Association.

"We are encouraging self inspection," she said. "We don't want people to (bring) invasive species (into Tahoe)."

As for those locals who enjoy Tahoe by swimming, sunbathing, or other boatless activities the best way to get involved is to spread information and even become a volunteer inspector, said Nicole Cartwright a conservation planner of invasive species program at the TRCD. To become a volunteer, contact Cartwright at (530) 543-1501 ext. 111.

For Tim Lampe, an Incline resident who spends a majority of his time during the summer on his boat with his family, keeping quagga out is vital.

"Tahoe is a limited resource," he said.

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