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Utah water enthusiasts counted on to help combat ‘destructive’ quagga mussel

SHARE Utah water enthusiasts counted on to help combat ‘destructive’ quagga mussel

HEBER CITY — Every once in a while, a vehicle hauling a boat or personal watercraft whizzed by and the overhead lights of law enforcement flipped on.

The errant driver on U.S. 40 southeast of Heber City was nabbed for blowing by a quagga mussel checkpoint, set up to protect popular boating destinations like Strawberry, Deer Creek and Jordanelle reservoirs.

Since late May, the Utah Division of Wildlife Services has been requiring water enthusiasts with boats or personal watercraft to pull over to a checkpoint to make sure precautions have been taken to decontaminate their equipment.

The agency's Lt. Bruce Johnson said a checkpoint Friday was part of that ongoing effort and especially important given the crowds expected for the Fourth of July holiday weekend.

Quagga mussels are destructive to water infrastructure like pipelines, clogging them and rendering them useless. They also are hitchhikers, grabbing onto the bottom of boats and other watercraft and spread easily from lake to lake.

Lake Powell is infested, but three other bodies of water — Red Fleet Reservoir, Electric Lake and Sand Hollow Reservoir once on the list — are now deemed free of the freshwater mollusk, which is about the size of a human thumbnail.

In 2014, young quagga, called veligers, were discovered in routine sampling at Deer Creek Reservoir.

Since then, the division has mounted an aggressive campaign that includes rigorous testing, stepped up checkpoints and public outreach.

Should Deer Creek land on the list of the state-infested waters, the results could be disastrous and costly for one of the Wasatch Front's chief sources of water, said division spokesman Mark Hadley.

"Right now, the news is pretty good," he said, adding that results from a dive in June revealed no existence of the quagga.

"We got a bunch of divers, 14 divers, and each of them did a couple of dives. They looked at the structure of the dam and the rock wall opposite of the main boat ramp and did not see anything."

Hadley said more dives will be conducted this summer, and sampling will continue until the officials are sure Deer Creek is not infested.

Most water enthusiasts are responsible and take proper precautions, but Johnson said continuing education is key to remind the boating republic of the quagga hazard.

"Our compliance rate with the boaters pulling into the inspection station is in the mid-80s, so we have about a 15 percent violation rate," he said. "Often, people are driving down the road and not paying attention."

Johnson said the intent of the checkpoints is not to write tickets but to spread the word about quagga mussels.

"We are trying to educate the public."

Email: amyjoi@deseretnews.com

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