Utah biologists' worst fears may come true. Early tests show quagga and zebra mussels may have found their way into three Utah reservoirs. Early tests, however, show that three of Utah's most popular waters Bear Lake, Flaming Gorge and Lake Powell have not been contaminated.
Larry Dalton, aquatic invasive species coordinator for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, said samples were taken from 42 waters in Utah. He said Pelican Lake, Red Fleet and Midview reservoirs, all in northeastern Utah, could be contaminated.
"But, we won't know for sure until we get DNA test results back," he said.
Biologists for the Bureau of Reclamation in Denver tested the samples and told Dalton they found what appear to be juvenile mussels under a microscope. To verify those findings, samples from the three waters have been sent to two separate labs. To avoid the possibility of spreading the mussels, DWR biologists are contacting boaters as they leave the three waters and asking if they:
• Want their boat decontaminated on the spot.
• Want to take their boat home and decontaminate it on their own.
DWR personnel will spray boats in hot water, which takes between 20 and 30 minutes, said Dalton. The spraying is free.
If boaters do the cleansing on their own, they must wash, drain and remove mud, and must let the boat dry for 18 days. Authorities went on guard last year when the tiny crustacean was found in Lake Mead.
A zebra mussel is no larger than the tip of a man's finger. What is troubling is a single mussel can produce upward of a million young a year, which means within a few years that one zebra mussel could be responsible for trillions of descendants.
Once established in a water, it will cost millions to try and control the mussels. Once hatched, mussels form large colonies. As many as 70,000 have been found to occupy an area that measures one square meter.
Also, the quagga can attach to a wide range of structures. On a fluctuating lake, like Powell, they can form layers up to 18 inches thick below the surface along shorelines. When the water recedes, these barriers are uncovered. When the mussels die, they break apart and create a surface of sharp, cutting shells over a sandy shore. Also, as the uncovered mussels die, they create an awful smell.
A more immediate threat is the mussels are quick to attach to a hard surface and can therefore clog pipes. The mussels can also form large colonies on the bottom of boats, around outdrives and props, and attach to anchors and anchor ropes. Another concern is what results the mussels will have on the fisheries. Each mussel filters water to extract nutrients and plankton for food. Biologists will continue testing procedures, and when found will try and contain the mussels.