Mussel inspection method lacking?
June 6, 2008
By KAREN VELIE
A tiny, invasive bivalve and a statewide drought of increasing severity are on a collision course in San Luis Obispo County.
Hoping to prevent an infestation of the Quagga mussel into local waters, the county Parks and Recreation Department has launched a counterattack that some observers suspect may be counterproductive. Those efforts also may be wasting water and financial resources.
The Quagga mussel is feared because of its propensity to clog water systems, wreak havoc on ecosystems, and create huge problems for water providers. It is transported from one location to another by sportsmen and their boats. But the method now being used in San Luis Obispo County to eradicate the pest may be either a well conceived solution or a knee-jerk reaction and a waste of county funds and vital resources.
The water-intense treatment of boats is intended to control the mussel, but some experts believe this unnecessarily wastes a large amount of water, and may be less effective than other treatments. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger this week declared that the state is in the midst of a severe drought with no end in sight.
Boaters arriving at either Lopez or Santa Margarita lakes can expect to have their boat and trailer inspected. Inspectors reject boats found to contain standing water. Staff sends clean and dry vessels to a decontamination station, where the boats undergo two back-to-back 180 degree high-pressured power washes.
“That may be overkill,” said Fish and Game spokeswomen Alexia Retallack when asked her opinion of this county’s mussel prevention program. “We don’t come in and tell them what do.
“We advise inspectors to run their hands along the hull to make sure it’s dry and doesn’t feel like sand paper,” Retallack said. “Boats with standing water should be turned away.”
The department advises that boats leaving infested waters be power washed.
Retallack noted that some counties have begun requiring boats failing the inspection receive a power wash at the boaters’ expense prior to receiving permission to launch.
Other counties have chosen mussel-sniffing dogs to protect their waters.
“Studies show that one well-trained dog can save approximately 800 personnel hours per year,” according to the Department of Fish and Game’s web site.
Quagga mussels, which first came from the Ukraine, are already creating huge environmental and business problems on lakes and waterways in southern Californian. Boats from infested waters serve as transporters, and Quagga can survive five days in a warm and dry environment. Prevention is considered the best solution to protect water systems from an invasion.
“We are pulling eight full-time staff members from throughout the system,” said Deputy Director of San Luis Obispo County Parks and Recreation Pete Jenny. “The quality throughout the system has dropped somewhat due to the emergency.”
Jenny estimates the program’s annual costs to run $200,000 for salaries; $20,000 for equipment; and a minimal charge for diesel fuel and water needed to operate the power washers.
“We are trying to err on the side of caution,” Jenny added. “The cost to taxpayers will be hundreds of millions of dollars if they get in.”