Lake Whatcom inspectors find invasive shellfish on boat

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJune 23, 2014 

BELLINGHAM - Lake Whatcom boat inspectors found dead quagga mussels June 14 in a ski boat that had most recently been in Lake Havasu, an Arizona lake infested with the invasive shellfish.

These were the first quagga or zebra mussels found at Lake Whatcom since mandatory boat inspections began in April 2013, according to a June 23 press release announcing the discovery.

The inspection program was put in place primarily to stop zebra and quagga mussels from entering the lake. No evidence of the species has been found in the lake so far, said Jon Hutchings, Bellingham assistant public works director.

"The program worked, and we were able to recognize some telltale signs that this was a higher-risk boat, which caused the inspectors to take a much closer look," Hutchings said.

The 17-foot vessel was purchased in Olympia but had a California registration, and the trailer had an Arizona license plate. Both states have lakes with invasive mussels.

During the inspection, the invasive species program coordinator was able to call the boat's previous owner and learn the boat had most recently been in Lake Havasu. It then was in dry storage in Olympia for a year, which killed the mussels that had hitched a ride.

The young mussels, which when open spanned about half the width of a nickel, were discovered on the outboard part of the motor.

"It just so happens that the inspector that was working that shift also had a high level of training. He had gone through a training down at Lake Havasu," said Clare Fogelsong, the city Public Works environmental policy section manager.

The mussels were physically removed, and the boat was pressure washed with hot water. The boat's owner paid a $25 decontamination fee.

In 2013, four boats were decontaminated among the 3,192 that had been inspected by the Lake Whatcom Management Program, run by the city, Whatcom County and the Lake Whatcom Water and Sewer District. Those four had vegetation or algae that couldn't be identified, Fogelsong has said.

Zebra and quagga mussels, first documented in the U.S. in the Great Lakes in 1988, can damage water intakes, docks and boats. Infestations can close lakeside recreation areas, and affect the taste and odor of drinking water. Bellingham residents and some county residents drink Lake Whatcom water.

City officials attribute the success of the program thus far to the cooperation of boaters.

"We understand this program isn't foolproof," Fogelsong said. "We're not everywhere all the time, but we are relying a lot on the public's education around the issue to help us make the program as tight as possible. We've had a really good response."

Cooperation also has come from canoe and kayak owners, who were added to the inspection program this year.

"Those are people that could very easily have launched from their front yard ... and not paid attention to the program, but we've had great participation," Fogelsong said.

"We've had our hurdles of course," Hutchings added, "but what we're finding is that people can relate to this problem."

PREVENTION STEPS

When going from one water body to another, clean off mud, vegetation and debris after returning to shore, and drain any water left in the boat. Thoroughly wash and dry the boat at home.

Source: City of Bellingham

Reach Ralph Schwartz at 360-715-2289 or ralph.schwartz@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Politics blog at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog or get updates on Twitter at @bhampolitics.

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