Boat inspectors looking for invasive mussels and other potentially harmful plants and animals checked almost 8,000 boats this season at Lake Whatcom and Lake Samish, more than double the number from 2013.
The bottom-line result: One boat was found carrying Quagga mussels, one of the invasive species the city and Whatcom County governments, and the Lake Whatcom Water and Sewer District, want to keep out of the lakes.
The tiny, juvenile mussels discovered in June had been out of water for more than a year and were dead, according to a report on the 2014 aquatic invasive species inspection program, released by the city on Dec. 5. Still, the boat was decontaminated before it was allowed into Lake Whatcom.
The boat, which had previously been launched in mussel-infested Lake Havasu in Arizona, was the only boat inspectors needed to disinfect at Lake Whatcom or Lake Samish this year.
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After two years of mandatory boat inspections at Lake Whatcom and Lake Samish, the lakes apparently have remained clean of invasive zebra or Quagga mussels. City officials who run the program say it continues to be successful.
“It doesn’t appear from the data that the program is dissuading people from participating in recreational activities,” said Clare Fogelsong, Bellingham natural resources policy manager.
Officials attribute the higher number of inspections, from 3,192 in 2013 to 7,859 this year, to a warm, sunny summer and the expansion of the program to include canoes, kayaks and other craft without motors.
Inspectors checked about 3,500 hand-carried craft such as canoes this year, according to Teagan Ward, the program’s coordinator.
The rest of the increase could be attributed to the weather, Ward said.
“We had multiple days where we had over 100 boats coming into Bloedel,” she said. “We definitely noticed more traffic (than in 2013).”
Checkpoints at Bloedel Donovan and South Bay at Lake Whatcom, and the Department of Fish and Wildlife launch at Lake Samish, were busy but flowed more smoothly than last year, Fogelsong said.
More boaters this year chose to have their vessels tied with a wire to their trailers after leaving the lake. They could skip the inspection on their next outing as long as the wire remained intact. The number of boats that were wire-sealed in 2014 was 1,116, compared to 318 last year.
“People better knew how to participate in the program” in its second year, Fogelsong said.
Zebra and Quagga 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. Bellingham residents and some county residents drink Lake Whatcom water. Quagga mussels have spread as far west as southern California and northern Nevada but have not yet been found living in Washington state.
Boaters should see few if any changes to the inspections in 2015, city officials said. The cost of a season permit is expected to remain the same — $50 for powered boats, and $10 for canoes and kayaks. People received a $10 discount in 2014 if they passed a 30-minute online course on invasive species, and the course likely will remain a requirement next year, even for boaters who already took it.
Residents who live along Lake Whatcom or Lake Samish are likely to continue to pay the same fee as visiting boaters, at least in 2015, Fogelsong said. Some locals had asked for a discount or a waiver if they only put their boat in one lake all season.
“We just feel like we need another year of collecting data on whether those fees are appropriate,” Fogelsong said.
The inspection program collected more than $123,000 in fees in 2014, and costs exceeded $323,000. The proposal for 2015 is for the county and city to help make up the shortfall with $86,000 each in subsidies, while the Lake Whatcom Water and Sewer District would put in $50,000.