DWR Busy With Boat Inspections Over Pioneer Day Weekend
It was another busy holiday weekend for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, and the ongoing effort in preventing invasive quagga mussels in Lake Powell, and from other states, from spreading to other Utah water bodies. Law enforcement officers and technicians were at work inspecting and decontaminating boats around the state.
Over the Pioneer Day weekend, personnel from the DWR, Utah State Parks, Arizona Fish and Game Department and the National Park Service inspected 14,885 boats and performed some 355 decontamination's. 2,292 of the inspections and 75 of the decontamination's took place at Lake Powell.
By comparison, for the 2022 Pioneer Day weekend there were 12,197 statewide inspections and 252 boats needing decontamination.
So why the big concern with quagga mussels?
Quagga mussels are invasive freshwater mussels native to Ukraine and Southern Russia. Unfortunately, they have caused significant damage to aquatic ecosystems since their accidental introduction to the Great Lakes region in North America in the late 1980s. Since then, they have spread to other water bodies in North America and Europe, wreaking havoc on the environment and local economies.
One of the most significant impacts of quagga mussels is their ecological damage. These mussels reproduce rapidly, forming dense colonies that filter vast amounts of plankton and suspended particles from the water. As a result, they disrupt the natural food chain, which can lead to serious consequences for native species. Fish and other aquatic organisms that rely on the affected organisms for food suffer, leading to declines in their populations. The balance of the entire ecosystem is thrown off, causing a ripple effect that can have far-reaching implications.
In addition to their impact on native species, quagga mussels alter habitats in the water bodies they infest. They attach themselves to various surfaces such as rocks, piers, and pipes. With their massive numbers, these mussels coat these surfaces, effectively changing the habitat structure. This alteration can reduce the availability of suitable habitats for other aquatic species, including native mussel populations and other bottom-dwelling organisms. As a result, many native species struggle to find suitable living spaces, leading to displacement and potential declines in their numbers.
Moreover, quagga mussels' filtering activities can initially improve water clarity, which may seem like a positive effect. However, the consequences can be detrimental in the long run. With clearer water, more sunlight penetrates deeper into the water column, promoting the growth of algae and aquatic plants. Excessive algal blooms can lead to a process called eutrophication, where the water becomes enriched with nutrients, causing oxygen levels to decrease as excess organic matter decomposes. This depletion of oxygen results in the formation of "dead zones," harming fish and other aquatic organisms that rely on adequate oxygen levels to survive.
The impact of quagga mussels is not limited to the natural environment; it extends to human infrastructure and economies as well. The mussels can clog water intake pipes and equipment used for water supply, hydroelectric power generation, and industrial processes. This leads to increased maintenance costs and impacts the functionality of these infrastructures, potentially disrupting water supplies and affecting energy production.
Quagga mussels have significant economic implications. Fisheries, recreational activities such as boating and fishing, and tourism are negatively affected. The decline in native fish populations and degradation of water quality can lead to decreased catch yields and dissuade tourists and visitors from engaging in water-related activities. Consequently, affected regions experience revenue losses and face economic challenges.
Utah boat inspections are an essential part of the state's efforts to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species (AIS) and protect its water bodies. Boat inspections are designed to ensure that watercraft entering or moving within the state's waters are clean, drained, and free of invasive species such as quagga and zebra mussels. These inspections are crucial because AIS can cause significant ecological and economic damage to Utah's lakes and reservoirs.
The main goal of boat inspections in Utah is to stop the spread of invasive species from one water body to another. When boats and other watercraft are not properly cleaned and drained, they can carry microscopic larvae or adult mussels attached to their hulls, engines, or equipment. If these boats are launched into new waters, they can introduce invasive species to previously unaffected areas, leading to infestations that are challenging and costly to manage.
The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) and other agencies are responsible for conducting these inspections at various entry points to water bodies, including boat ramps, marinas, and state parks. During an inspection, trained personnel examine the boat to ensure it meets the necessary requirements.
Boaters in Utah are encouraged to be proactive and participate in the state's "Clean, Drain, Dry" campaign, which promotes responsible boating practices to prevent the spread of invasive species. Additionally, boaters are required to complete an AIS education course to be aware of the risks posed by invasive species and understand the importance of following inspection and decontamination protocols.
There are over 40 inspection stations in Utah, located at various water body boat ramps, along highways and at Port of Entry stations. You can see a list of the decontamination stations around the state by going to the STD of the Sea website. That website will also give you further information on boating regulations, including regulations that went in to effect at the start of this month.
Utah's boat inspection program plays a vital role in protecting the state's precious water resources, preserving native aquatic ecosystems, and safeguarding recreational opportunities for residents and visitors alike. By preventing the introduction and spread of invasive species, Utah can maintain the health and biodiversity of its waters for future generations.