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Stop Mussels in Their Tracks: Clean, Drain and Dry Your Boat

Quagga Mussels covering a boat motor
Quagga Mussels covering a boat motor

Boat decontamination now required at Lake Powell

Searchers are still finding quagga mussels at Lake Powell. And, as Memorial Day weekend gets closer, you need to be aware of a three-step process you must put your boat through if it's been on the lake.

So far this spring, searchers have found more than 115 quagga mussels attached to boats and boat docks at the Wahweap and Antelope Point marinas at the lake in southern Utah. Larry Dalton, aquatic invasive species coordinator for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, says searchers will likely find more mussels as they continue looking.

"No matter where you boat in Utah," Dalton says, "it's absolutely vital that you clean, drain and dry your boat and any equipment that comes in contact with the water."

Once mussels establish themselves in a body of water, Dalton says it's extremely difficult, expensive and sometimes impossible to remove them.

To reduce the chance that boaters accidently transport mussels from Lake Powell to other bodies of water in Utah, effective immediately, you must do the following:

Clean, drain and dry

As Memorial Day weekend and another boating season rapidly approach, Dalton says now is the perfect time to brush up on your decontamination skills:

Quagga and zebra mussels move from water to water by attaching themselves to boats and other equipment that comes in contact with the water.

Cleaning, draining and drying your boat, and any recreational equipment that comes in contact with the water, is the key to eliminating the mussels. "You can do this yourself," Dalton says, "and it won't cost you a thing."

Follow these three steps to clean, drain and dry your boat. (The steps are also available at www.wildlife.utah.gov/dwr/decontaminate.html.):

  1. Remove all of the plants, mud or animals (attached mussels or fish) from your boat's exterior and interior by wiping the exterior and interior clean.
  2. Drain all the water from places in your boat where it may have accumulated. This includes the ballast tanks, the bilge, live and bait wells, and the motor. Even coolers that contain water from the lake should be drained.
  3. The first two steps should be done immediately after pulling your boat out of the water and up the launch ramp. "Going through these steps should become as routine as securing your boat to its trailer," Dalton says. "Make sure you do them every time."
  4. Dry your boat and all the equipment that got wet (water toys, anchor or mooring ropes and the anchor chest) at home or where you store it for the following length of time:
  5. MonthsDry time
    March, April and May18 days
    June, July and August7 days
    September, October and November18 days
    December, January and February30 days

Temperatures that drop below 32 degrees Fahrenheit for three straight days will also kill the mussels.

If you'd like to put your boat on the water before the drying times allow, you'll have to get it professionally decontaminated. "Decontamination equipment is available at most of Utah's popular boating waters," Dalton says. "The service is usually free."

When you get your boat decontaminated, a certified operator will wash it inside and out with scalding hot water (140 degrees Fahrenheit). He or she will also use the same hot water to flush the raw water circulation systems on your boat.

You can learn where decontamination units are by calling a regional DWR aquatic invasive species biologist. Their telephone numbers are available at www.wildlife.utah.gov/mussels/decon_units.php.

How to prevent the spread of mussels

Why the concern?

The following are reasons why you should be concerned about quagga and zebra mussels:

Mussels can plug water lines, even very large diameter ones.

Dalton says widespread infestation by quagga or zebra mussels could cost Utahns more than $15 million each year to maintain Utah's water delivery systems. "That cost would likely be passed on to you in the form of higher utility bills," he says.

Mussels remove plankton from the water column, the same plankton that support Utah's sport fish and native fish. The mussels could devastate fisheries in Utah.

Mussels can damage your boat by attaching themselves to your boat's hull and fouling the boat's engine cooling system.

When mussels die in large numbers, their sharp shells can foul beaches and cut your feet as you walk along the beach.