Inspections for invasive mussels planned at Sonoma, Mendocino lakes this summer
Published: Sunday, May 12, 2013 at 2:16 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, May 12, 2013 at 2:16 p.m.
An eager chocolate Lab named Popeye, trained to sniff out invasive species of mussels, will be on duty again at Lake Sonoma and Lake Mendocino beginning Memorial Day Weekend.
The 5-year-old dog, who will be working on select summer weekends, is part of voluntary inspections that foreshadow a mandatory inspection program for boaters anticipated to launch next year.
By October, freshwater recreational boat owners statewide can expect to pay up to $10 more for their annual registration fee to combat the spread of insidious quagga and zebra mussels.
The aquatic hitchhikers, which can attach themselves to boat hulls and equipment, pose a significant threat to water supply, flood control, power generation and recreation infrastructure.
North County Supervisor Mike McGuire, whose district encompasses Lake Sonoma, said the mussels “are vigorous egg layers and impossible to quarantine. We are trying to tackle this early before these buggers take a hold.”
McGuire said the invasive species, the size of a pinhead as juveniles that grow to up to 1½ inches as adults, pose serious environmental and economic concerns.
So far the quagga and zebra mussel infestations have been found in more than two dozen lakes or reservoirs in the state, mostly in Southern California.
Once established, they latch onto pipes, canals, screens, valves and gates in quantities that can severely impede water flow.
They’ve made it as far north as a reservoir in San Benito County, near the Santa Clara County line, where they were discovered five years ago.
The invasive species originated in Eastern Europe and came to North America in the ballast of a ship that was dumped in the Great Lakes, noted Brad Sherwood, spokesman for the Sonoma County Water Agency.
Widespread zebra mussel infestation in the Great Lakes resulted in more than $5 billion in economic impacts between 2000 and 2010, according to official estimates.
McGuire said if the mussels became established in lakes Sonoma and Mendocino, it would threaten the integrity of the water system that delivers to more than 600,000 people in the North Bay, as well as the flood control infrastructure.
It also would jeopardize a Coho salmon broodstock program at the Warm Springs Dam hatchery that is helping to re-establish the endangered fish in the Russian River and other areas.
The mussels upset the food chain by consuming phytoplankton that other species need to survive.
McGuire noted that Lake Sonoma is estimated to generate $10 million annually in visitor spending and Lake Mendocino, $15 million. Those revenues could suffer with a mussel infestation.
“It is a double whammy for the North Coast, environmentally and economically,” he said.
A mature female mussel can produce more than 1 million eggs per breeding cycle.
“These little buggers are extremely prolific egg layers and spread like wildfire,” said McGuire.
Mussels attach themselves to boats and also can be introduced to new waterways by flowing downstream.
Mature mussels can live out of water for weeks.
Assembly Bill 2443, which was passed last year, authorizes the collection of additional registration fees to implement and administer mussel inspection and monitoring.
The exact fee is still being determined by the Department of Boating and Waterways, according to McGuire, but will be from $8 to $10 on each of the the state’s 484,000 freshwater vessels. It will raise $2.5 million to $3.1 million annually for the inspections.
McGuire said a North Coast consortium that includes Sonoma, Mendocino and Humboldt counties hopes to collect $500,000 of that through a grant from the state.
Sherwood, the water agency official, said there could be additional fees of around $7 per inspection, or $35 per season, to help augment funding, similar to fees charged in other counties.
It would would help pay for personnel to do boat inspections during the height of the season from spring to fall.
McGuire said the vast majority of boaters don’t have an issue with the need for the program.
“It’s a small price to pay when you consider the environmental and economic impacts if (mussels) take hold,” McGuire said.
More information on mussel prevention is available at dontmoveamussel.com.
(You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)