Thursday, April 10, 2008

Boats Allowed Back on Lake Casitas

Fishermen must abide by restrictions to prevent quagga mussel infestation

By Daryl Kelley
Lake Casitas, one of the nation’s premier fishing venues, will be reopened to anglers who use it exclusively and follow stringent security measures to block a potential infestation of a destructive mussel, lake directors decided Wednesday.
To the delight of fishermen, the Casitas Municipal Water District board approved new rules that will allow hundreds of boats back into the huge Ojai Valley reservoir under a new system of locks, tags and quarantines to ensure they are clean and dry.
Last month, the board banned outside boats from the lake to avoid a possible contamination by alien quagga and zebra mussels, which multiple rapidly, clogging waterworks and destroying lake ecosystems.
The mussels have been found in about a dozen lakes in Nevada, Arizona and California in the last 16 months.
Lake Casitas’ new security system will be implemented in the next two to three weeks as officials receive the newly minted cable locks, notify 240 boat owners on a waiting list and inspect the vessels to make sure they have no residual water in them from past use. A 10-day quarantine would follow.
The new rules also create greater access to the lake by expanding the lake’s boat storage area, so local fishermen can leave their boats there for a fee and continue to fish regularly.
But many boaters may now opt to simply take their locked boats home for storage once the quarantine is complete, since tags placed on the $50 cable locks are supposedly tamper-proof and would be damaged if an angler removed his boat from its trailer to fish elsewhere.
A boater who tries to fool the tag system would be banned from Lake Casitas for a year, the board decided.
“I’ve been told we have the most stringent inspection process in the entire world short of decontamination,” said Rob Weiner, the park services officer who heads up the new inspection program.
“We feel like this system was developed so we can guarantee 100 percent that the boat is not coming from infested waters,” he said. “Every aspect of this tamper-proof system has been analyzed and reanalyzed.”
Boaters said they were satisfied with the new measures.
George Boston, of Ojai, who has used the lake for 48 years, said the security was warranted and praised it as “a solid proposal.” He said renewed access will make his life better.
“I retired two years ago after working for 40 years,” he said. “I use Lake Casitas continually ... (The ban) really is a severe impact to my quality of life.”
The new program also allows newly purchased or constructed boats onto the lake without quarantine after an inspection.
That solved a problem faced by a Buena High School team from Ventura that has built a solar-powered boat and wanted to test it on the lake in the next few days.
Not fully addressed, however, is how kayakers fit into the new security system.
“I scrubbed my kayak for four hours and told officers I would eat off of it if necessary (to prove its cleanliness),” said Lora McWhirter, of Oak View, who had kayaked at the lake up to three times a week. “ I love the lake as much as any of you ... I want to abide by the rules. We wouldn’t do anything to contaminate our waters.”
But officials said kayaks are often not transported on trailers, so the lock-and-tag system doesn’t work. They said they may be able to devise a locking system in a storage area at the lake.
The Casitas board said it is comfortable with the new system, if the initial inspection is exhaustive
“I think that everything that staff has developed so far is really workable,” said Director Russ Baggerly, who spearheaded the anti-mussel effort last year. “But we have to pay more attention to the initial inspection.”
Baggerly said inspectors should assume that every boat that shows up at the lake is infected, and require that the boat’s internal plumbing system be sucked dry or disinfected with chlorine to kill microscopic larvae that might be hiding inside.
Boat owners assured Baggerly that they would bring their boats to the lake in pristine condition.
“I spend more time cleaning my boat than fishing out of it,” said boater Dave Pullman, who said he sucks the water from the boat’s plumbing with a vacuum cleaner to make sure it’s dry. “That’s how I do it every day.”
Indeed, Casitas directors said the system was proposed by boaters as a way to keep mussels out but not shut down a popular bass fishery used by at least 26,000 boats a year.
“The fishermen came up with the solution,” Director Bill Hicks said.
And board President Jim Word noted that he has a personal interest in the issue as well.
“I too have a boat I’d like to get back on the lake,” he said.
For updates on how quickly the process is moving along, boaters may call the Casitas Recreation Area at 649-2233, Ext. 7, and ask for information on how inspections are going on the trailer storage waiting list.
“We’ll go through it as quickly as we can,” said district General Manager Steve Wickstrum. “We’ve got limited staff, but will try to do this as rapidly as possible.”
Since the quagga mussel threat surfaced last year in San Diego and Riverside counties, the Casitas district has been checking boats for water or vegetation that could carry the mussel’s microscopic larvae and asking boat operators if their craft have been in infested lakes and excluding those that had.
Casitas directors imposed the boat inspections in mid-November, and officials said 158 of about 2,800 screened boats have been excluded, usually because they still carried water from other lakes.
In a series of recent meetings, dozens of boaters cited the economic harm of a ban since Casitas is a premier bass fishing lake: District staffers had estimated such a ban would cost the water agency more than $600,000 a year in recreation revenue while also hurting nearby businesses.
Repeatedly, fishermen said there was no evidence that the mussels had been transported by boats in California. State officials said the mussels had infested eight Southern California lakes through a series of aqueducts, not by boat, although the initial infestation in Lake Mead was apparently from a houseboat moved from the Great Lakes area.
But some community members asked for an immediate ban, citing the billions of dollars agencies have spent in the Great Lakes region since 1988 to combat the invasive zebra mussel, which apparently migrated to the U.S. aboard freighters from the Ukraine.
One large utility in the East Bay of San Francisco responded by banning any boat from Southern California or outside the state from its reservoirs. That move came in late January after a zebra mussel was discovered near Gilroy in San Benito County, just south of the Bay Area.
It was also the first zebra mussel found in the western United States, officials said.
The quagga mussel’s migration northward, after it was discovered at Lake Mead and Lake Havasu 16 months ago, has occurred in the sprawling canal system of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.


Rick Raine said...

Many thanks to Larry Elshere, Rob Weiner and all the others who worked very hard in creating a program that protects Lake Casitas and allows boaters to once again enjoy the beautiful recreational area. You guys did a great job and we all owe you our gratitude!

Anonymous said...

Just a question: how did all of those freshwater clams get into Lake Casitas? (I also wonder why their existence was never brought up during all of the mussel brouhaha.)

They've been there for years, and you can see the shells of the dead ones when you walk the shoreline, especially on the north shore of Wadleigh Arm. They're burrowing clams and they seem to prefer deeper water. I've only seen living specimens when the lake drops to unusually low levels, as it did in 2003.

James Hatch said...

As I posted before,
"How can such a small organism, be such a big problem?" Lo and behold, I was right. It turns out that it wasn't and I was right all along.

Anonymous said...

You've never been right, James.