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Drought raises risk of invasive quagga mussels spreading to Utah bodies of water

Posted at 9:44 PM, Jun 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-18 23:45:36-04

WASATCH COUNTY, Utah — Quagga mussels pose a higher risk of spreading across Utah this year, and the drought is part of the problem.

At Jordanelle State Park, wildlife officers have seen a sharp increase in the number of infested boats.

This time last year, quagga mussels were found on two boats before launching at Jordanelle.

This year, they’ve found six despite only half the number of boats coming through.

Eight percent of the boats coming to Jordanelle Friday came from Lake Powell. Zach Alders’s boat was there two days ago.

Lake Powell is historically low, and it's Utah’s only body of water with the invasive species that love to clog water pipes.

“There’s always a concern that they are going to be there," Alders said.

“If we get mussels growing inside those pipes and blocking that, it is going to cost the taxpayers millions of dollars just to keep bringing water to our houses," biologist Daniel Olwer said.

The extreme drought is exposing quagga mussels on the walls of Lake Powell. They’re getting knocked off and concentrating around boat ramps.

Olwer says up to 80 percent of boats leaving Powell for higher water carry hitch hikers.

“We’ve seen in an increase in the number of boats that have mussels on them or in them somewhere," he said.

Utah's Division of Wildlife Resources discovered quagga mussels in 60 boats already this season. Just on Friday afternoon, two were found in Saratoga Springs. One was found dead at Utah Lake Thursday, and two more were discovered there on Monday.

With the drought causing Utah boaters to search for higher water levels across the state, Olwer says it’s critical to take all the precautions — even if decontamination isn’t convenient.

"We’ve already been here for like 45 minutes waiting," Alders said. "But you've got to do what you've got to do."

Last year, 23 boats carrying mussels were found at Jordanelle last year before they had the chance to get into the water.