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Inspections start for mussels we don’t want in lakes Whatcom, Samish

Boats at Bloedel Donovan Park wait to be inspected on July 1, 2013. The inspection station at the park and other places in Whatcom County will re-open for the season Saturday as part of an ongoing effort to keep harmful invasive aquatic species out of Lake Whatcom and Lake Samish.
Boats at Bloedel Donovan Park wait to be inspected on July 1, 2013. The inspection station at the park and other places in Whatcom County will re-open for the season Saturday as part of an ongoing effort to keep harmful invasive aquatic species out of Lake Whatcom and Lake Samish. The Bellingham Herald file

Are you launching your boat into Lake Whatcom or Lake Samish this boating season? Remember to first have it inspected to keep harmful shellfish and other non-native pests out of the lakes.

The annual Whatcom Boat Inspection Program kicks off Saturday, when inspection stations open for the season. It will continue through Sept. 29.

To prevent aquatic invasive species from entering local waters, inspectors will check boats to make sure they’re clean, drained and dry before allowing them onto the lakes. Non-motorized boats, such as canoes and kayaks, also must be inspected.

The program is an effort of the City of Bellingham, Whatcom County government, and the Lake Whatcom Water and Sewer District.

New this year are more hours at Lake Samish and Sudden Valley for inspections, according to Renee LaCroix, assistant Public Works director in charge of the Natural Resources Division.

That’s in response to requests from the public.

“Our goal is to increase participation in the program,” LaCroix said. “Anything we can do to make it easier for people to participate, I think we all win.”

Why they’re doing it

The boat inspections have been mandatory since April 2013.

Officials want to keep all invasive species, which hitch rides on boats from infested waterways, out of Lake Whatcom and Lake Samish.

Because they’re not native, such aquatic plants and critters have no natural enemies to control their growth here. That could allow them to reproduce rapidly and crowd out native species, causing millions of dollars in economic and ecological damages.

Non-native zebra and quagga mussels, which grow in masses, are the greatest concern. The freshwater mussels, first documented in the U.S. in 1988, can damage water intakes, docks and boats. Infestations can close recreation areas, and affect the taste and odor of drinking water – increasing costs for treating drinking water.

Lake Whatcom is the source of drinking water for about 100,000 residents in Whatcom County, including Bellingham.

Quagga mussels have spread as far west as Southern California and northern Nevada but have not yet been found living in Washington state.

Once the mussels have taken hold, they’re just about impossible to get out of the water body they’ve infested.

They’re not here, and the 16 inspectors checking boats this year are part of the effort to keep it that way.

Here’s a quick look at last year’s program:

▪  9,571 boats were inspected.

▪ 201 boats had standing water that could hold the microscopic larvae of aquatic pets, such as zebra or quagga mussels.

▪ 140 boats had aquatic plants that had to be removed.

▪ Boats came from 19 different states or provinces, and three boats had recently launched in water infested by mussels.

Where to go

Inspection stations will be set up at Bloedel Donovan Park, Lake Whatcom South Bay, and Lake Samish.

Other inspections can be set up by appointment.

There’s a fee, which helps pay for the program.

An annual permit for a motorized boat, with unlimited inspections, is $50, while one for a canoe, kayak or other unregistered watercraft is $10. There also is a three-day pass for a motorized or registered boat for $20.

People can get a $10 discount on their annual permit, per boat, by taking a 30-minute online course to learn about inspections and ways to prevent the transportation of invasive species.

To get the open hours for inspection stations, call 360-778-7975

Details are at whatcomboatinspections.com.

Kie Relyea: 360-715-2234, @kierelyea

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