Thursday, October 25, 2007

Invaders Threaten Lake Casitas

Board looks at closing lake to boaters to protect against mussel

By Daryl Kelley
First came ferocious winds and killer freezes, then this week's devastating firestorms. This has been a year of cataclysmic natural disasters for Southern California. And now comes a stealth invader that could add enormously to the toll for 2007.
The quagga mussel, a pernicious and prolific mollusk that overwhelms freshwater lakes like Lake Casitas, poses such a threat to fisheries and waterworks that the state enacted an emergency law this month allowing lakes to be closed to boaters altogether and contaminated boats to be seized.
Anyone who fails to report a quagga mussel infestation is subject to a fine of up to $1,000.
Reacting to the threat, directors of the Casitas Municipal Water District said this week that they would close Lake Casitas, which hosts 26,000 boaters a year, if state and federal officials don't come up with a plan to halt the northward spread of the mussel.
“This organism eats plankton that fish need to live, and it attaches to every hard surface such as the dam and pumps and filters and spills ways,” board President Russ Baggerly said. “It could cause such damage we couldn't afford to fix it. ... The solution of last resort is to close the lake to all private uses.”
Baggerly said the need to act is urgent, because the mussel, a native of Russia that was transported to the Great Lakes by ships two decades ago, was found in Lake Mead and Lake Havasu in January. It has since been discovered by dive teams in six lakes in Riverside and San Diego counties that are also part of the Colorado River distribution system. Lake Wolford near Escondido has been closed to public boaters by local officials.
A single boat entering Lake Casitas after fishing in an infested lake could bring the mussel here, Baggerly said. Quagga mussels have been found in concentrations of 30,000 to 50,000 per square foot, officials said, clogging water treatment and distribution systems to such an extent that they can hardly function.
Baggerly told the board that since 87 percent of boaters who use Lake Casitas come from outside this area, “we are overexposed to this infestation. It's only a few hours away.”
Casitas board members said they're taking the threat seriously.
“It sounds like the basis for a good horror movie,” Director Bill Hicks said.
The board authorized a team of Casitas officials to meet quickly with state and federal water officials and lawmakers to press the seriousness of the issue.
Casitas officials will ask the federal Bureau of Reclamation and the state Department of Fish and Game to implement a system that identifies boats that have been in infested waters in a computer database and with non-removable stickers, so officials at other lakes can keep those boats out or make sure they have been cleared of mussels.
“We need to give the (state) Department of Fish and Game the courage to protect us,” Baggerly told the board.
He said he has met with officials that operate Lake Piru near Fillmore and Lake Cachuma near Santa Barbara and that they will act in unison to try to force some action.
The state is already keenly aware of the problem.
Indeed, authorities reacted immediately after the quagga mussel was found in Lake Mead in Nevada on Jan. 6, forming a task force to identify the scope of the problem and attempt to halt the mollusk's migration.
Since then, state officials have hosted education programs for water officials, biologists and game wardens intended to raise red flags about the seriousness of the infestation.
Rob Weinerth, a Lake Casitas Recreation Area staffer, attended a briefing in San Diego County last week, and reported to the board Wednesday.
“The (message) in San Diego was this is coming your way,” Weinerth said. “We have an opportunity to keep it out ... But we don't have to tools to identity this stuff properly.”
Even if Casitas were to hire inspectors to scour every boat, a process that would take at least 30 minutes, it is difficult to find the tiny quagga larvae, he said.
“They feel like sandpaper, but so do a lot of boats,” he said.
Quagga mussel larvae can be killed with water heated to 140 degrees or with an acid mixture sprayed onto boats, he said.
He has asked for such decontamination kits, Weinerth said.
For now, noted Director Jim Word, “We're at the mercy of whoever brings the boat. Whether what they say is true.”
“Yes,” Weinerth said, “they could lie to us.”
The quagga mussel, a native of eastern Europe and Russia, found its way to the Great Lakes in the United States in 1988 and then was discovered early this year in a series of lakes and streams in the Colorado River watershed that feeds into Southern California.
According to the Department of Fish and Game, the mussels have been found in San Vicente Reservoir, Lake Murray Reservoir, Lower Otay Reservoir, and Lake Dixon in San Diego County and Lake Skinner and Lake Mathews in Riverside County.
“They present a serious threat to California’s environment, water delivery systems and recreational boating,” according to a Fish and Game statement released last week. “Quagga and zebra mussels clog water intake structures such as pipelines and screen, impair plumbing operations at power and water treatment plants, and contaminate vessels. They alter the food web by filtering out substantial amounts of phytoplankton necessary for fish and other species, and changing the pH of the waters they infest with their wastes.”
State Secretary for Resources Mike Chrisman had said in a previous announcement:
"With quagga mussels on the move from the Nevada border to inland San Diego County, we need the public’s help to keep them from going farther. Once the quagga are established in a waterway, they have significant environmental, recreational and economic impacts."
Although they range from microscopic to the size of a fingernail, the mussels are prolific breeders and attach themselves to hard and soft surfaces, such as boats and aquatic plants.
The mussels damage boats by blocking engine cooling, jamming steering equipment and increasing drag and destroying paint, the state release said.
They also “wreak havoc with the environment, disrupting the natural food chain and releasing toxins that affect other species. Spread of the quagga could result in millions of dollars in damage to water transport facilities.”
State officials asked boaters of infected lakes to inspect for mussels, wash hulls with hot water, remove all plants, drain water from boats and dry them. And not to enter another lake for at least five days.
Boat inspections are being conducted at a number of Department of Food and Agriculture border inspection stations and around the state.
As of Oct. 2, about 74,000 boats have been checked. About 8,200 boats contained water that needed to be drained. More than 70 vessels have been quarantined.
Thus far, the mussels have not been found in California's State Water Project (SWP), which draws its water from northern California watersheds.
A multi-agency taskforce that includes the Department of Fish and Game, the Department of Boating and Waterways, the Department of Water Resources and California State Parks has responded with surface and underwater inspectors to determine the extent of the quagga threat. For more information on the quagga mussel response, visit the DFG website.
A public toll-free number, (866) 440-9530, has been established for boaters and anyone involved with activities on lakes and rivers seeking information on the mussels.


Anonymous said...

Why would a boat that has been stored non-stop at the lake for years not be able to stay on the lake? If a boat has been in the water at Lake Casitas without ever having been anywhere else, it could not present any danger. The same would be true for the concessionaire's rental boats, and the private boats stored in the storage yard, as long as they had not been off of the property in awhile and did not contain any trapped water from any other lake or river.

Painted Hand Farm said...

Talk about putting the local economy in the toilet and raising water rates due to lost revenues! Before long, they'll also be dumping poisons in the drinking water to get rid of the darn things.

Anonymous said...

zero tolerenz ,
had maybe ahalf a cup of casistas water in the bilige (7 days old), and was denied boat entry and a 28 day quarentien for my boat casitas just sold me an annual boat pass 7 days ago 2/26/08 and tonite theres a meeting to ban all boats casitas and cachuma lakes and they made me feel like a criminal and a liar today but there the ones that took my cash and then left me and my boat high and dry another american pass time , california has changed , took almost all my life before i could own a soat , about a year , and now ,depressed and ready to sell boat , camping and fising gear