Quagga mussels are an invasive aquatic mollusk that have spread across the United States, and are one of the most economically damaging invasive species in the country.
Quagga mussels are often spread by hitching a ride in boats as microscopic larvae. When a contaminated boat enters a clean body of water, those larvae can escape. Once they’ve spread, they’re nearly impossible to eradicate.
Nathan Owens is the aquatic invasive species coordinator for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. He said Utah and other arid states are particularly at risk.
“These invasive species are concerning to the West because of the lack of water out here and the importance that we place on water infrastructure…quagga mussels are really effective at clogging up water pipes, water infrastructure, severely damaging those,” Owens explained.
To control the spread, Utah has set up watercraft inspection stops near boat launches, where boats are inspected and, if needed, decontaminated.
“The decontamination typically consists of a 140-degree exterior wash of your boats and then 120-degree Fahrenheit interior flushing of all these raw water systems. So the motor, ballast tanks, ballast pumps, live wells, those types of things. So we primarily just use hot water to take care of that threat,” Owens said.
Decontamination is frustratingly time-consuming, but Utah is working to reduce time spent waiting.
“We built a hot water decontamination dip tank, which is basically just a giant tank full of 110-degree Fahrenheit water. We put it down at Lake Powell, and boats can be backed down into this tank and all of their systems can be flushed with this hot water…it shrinks that decontamination time down from an hour on some of these more complex boats down to five, ten minutes maximum,” Owens said.
Owens emphasized the importance of working together, and how the dedication of boaters, the state of Utah, and surrounding states have been key to keeping our waterbodies clean.
For more information about how to stop the spread of quagga mussels, visit https://wildlife.utah.gov/fishing/invasive-mussels.html and https://stdofthesea.utah.gov/.