The Stateline Launch Ramp at Lake Powell on August 16, 2019. The ramp is one of the few options currently available for launching boats into Lake Powell. (Utah Department of Wildlife Resources)
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LAKE POWELL — Quagga clams are still an issue at Lake Powell. It is currently the only body of water in Utah suffering from the invasive species.
As a result, Utah and Arizona wildlife officials inspect every watercraft entering and exiting the water — boats, personal watercraft, kayaks, canoes, paddleboards, and inflatable boats. That’s because the species, which can damage ecosystems and damage water infrastructure, typically spreads from one body of water to another by boats and other watercraft, earning it the nickname “STD of the sea.”
But as water levels at Lake Powell fall to record lows, there are fewer access points. With the reservoir about a quarter full, many docks remain closed because they simply cannot reach the water.
“Like the rest of the state, Lake Powell received less rainfall than we had hoped and this has continued in recent years, meaning we are expecting lower water levels,” said Lt. Bruce Johnson of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources’ Aquatic Invasive Species Team.
As temperatures begin to rise and people get the itch to get back to boating, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is urging boaters to prepare for longer inspection and decontamination lines both entering and exiting the lake, as all go to the remaining options are available.
“(Boaters) have to have patience this year. It’s more important than ever to have patience,” Johnson added.
the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, which includes Lake Powell, attracted over 3.1 million visitors last year despite the low level limiting ramp opportunities. There is currently only one available ramp into the lake for motorized vessels, which is the Wahweap Stateline Auxiliary Launch Ramp. according to park officials.
Crews are working to extend the Bullfrog North ramp further into the lake, Johnson said. This work is scheduled to start on Monday and is expected to be completed in April. Some of the ramps closed to motorized boats are available to non-motorized watercraft, however it is recommended that you launch at your own risk.
Quagga clams have the ability to disrupt food webs, clog water supplies, and damage boats and harbors. according to the University of Wisconsin. A 2004 report found that quagga and zebra mussels can cause over $1 billion in damage to water infrastructure and industry annually. as determined by the United States Geological Survey.
There is also no way to really remove them from the water. Because the species is currently found only on Lake Powell, Utah began mandatory inspections to ensure problems related to quagga clams don’t spread to other lakes, rivers and reservoirs across the state.
The department is also inspecting boats going into other lakes because humans may be coming from an out-of-state infected water source and spreading quagga clams in Utah. These inspections can take as little as a few minutes, up to 10 minutes depending on the type of boat being inspected.
Boaters are also asked to remove the drain plug from their boats to flush all of their systems and remove any possible water that may contain clam shells. In Utah, it’s required to remove the plugs even during shipment, Johnson said.
“We also ask that you wipe down your boat and make sure the boat and trailer are clean of any clam shells that may be stuck to the side or berths,” he added. “And then pull up and present your craft to the (inspection) staff. This makes the process even faster, more efficient and we can get them off the ground much faster.”
Individuals who fail to follow the mandatory inspections can end up with a subpoena. According to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, 660 subpoenas were issued last year for violations of the law.