Utah is doing battle with dreaded quagga mussels — and the problem is getting worse

(Photo courtesy of the National Park Service) Lake Powell is Utah's water body infested with the nonnative quagga mussels.

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources spent the Fourth of July weekend battling invaders — and trying to keep quagga mussels from spreading.

According to the DWR, 210 boats were decontaminated after being pulled out of Lake Powell, and invasive quagga mussels were discovered on 3 out of 4 of them, 157 boats in all. Seventeen boaters were cited for either not stopping to have their boats inspected or for transporting their boats with the bilge plug still in.

Boaters are required to have their boats decontaminated after they’ve been in Lake Powell. The bilge plug must be removed and the water drained to prevent the mussels from spreading to the next body of water the boats enter.

“We are doing everything we can to protect Utah’s water infrastructure,” Scott Dalebout, DWR statewide operations lieutenant, said in a news release. “This isn’t just about preventing damage to boats — this is about making sure these invasive species don’t spread to other water bodies where they will get into water pipelines and cause millions of dollars in damage to Utah’s water infrastructure.”

Quagga mussels cling to the bottom of this boat at Lake Mead. photo by Natalie Muth, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources

The quagga problem has gotten worse this year at Lake Powell because the lake level has risen and caused previously exposed mussels to dislodge and float in the water. That has resulted, the release said, in “significantly more boats … leaving Lake Powell with mussels and shells onboard their vessels, in sea strainers, or on anchors and in compartments.”

There are more than 40 decontamination centers across the state. A complete list is available online at wildlife.utah.gov.

Why are quagga mussels so bad?

• They can plug water lines — even lines that are large in diameter.

• If they get into water delivery systems in Utah, they will cost millions of dollars annually to remove them and keep the pipes free, which would likely result in higher utility bills.

• They remove plankton from the water, which supports fish species in Utah.

• Mussels can get into boat engine cooling systems, fouling them and damaging the engines.

• When mussels die in large numbers, they stink. The sharp shells of dead mussels can cut your feet as you walk on the beaches.

— Utah Division of Wildlife Resources