Article written by Katherine Davis-Young of the Big Bear Grizzly.
State Funding Helps MWD in Quagga Fight
Quagga mussels and their relatives, zebra mussels, have made their way into 29 US states since the 1980s. That includes dozens of waterways in Southern California. But the invasive mollusks have not found their way into Big Bear Lake. The Big Bear Municipal Water District wants to keep it that way.
In April, the district was awarded a $200,000 grant from the State Parks Division of Boating and Waterways to go toward quagga control programs.
“When this program first came out everyone said, ‘you’ll never keep (quagga mussels) out,’” said MWD General Manager Mike Stephenson. “I said, ‘we’ll do 100 percent or we’ll do nothing.’ The board voted to do 100 percent.”
The grant will come as a big help, Stephenson said. The district plans to use the money on some new equipment like a mechanical arm to keep vehicles out of the East Boat Launch during unmanned hours. That addition will be added in 2016. Stephenson said the district also plans to put in some improvements like a better decontamination station at the West Boat Launch.
“It’s in order to be efficient with boaters so they get in and out as quickly as possible,” Stephenson said, adding the MWD still wants boaters to have an enjoyable time but needs to be extra cautious to prevent infestation.
The biggest change, Stephenson said, is that the grant has allowed MWD to hire some extra seasonal employees this year. The district used to employ three people to help with inspections, decontamination and permits. This year there are 10 people doing that work.
“(Quagga mussels) have really made it difficult,” Stephenson said. “(Ramp attendants) used to leave for the day at 3 p.m., now you have to have someone standing there at all times.”
Those additional employee hours add up quickly for the district. The work is important though, Stephenson said. Looking for quaggas requires a thorough inspection.
“There are a lot of places you wouldn’t think to look,” Stephenson said. “Boats go to Lake Mead and the whole bottom of that lake is covered in quaggas. They put the anchor down, pull it up, put it in a warm locker and viable quaggas will last in there for weeks.”
It only takes two of the mussels to create a huge infestation, Stephenson said. The small, striped mussels, native to Eastern Europe, are extremely hardy and can reproduce rapidly in a variety of habitats.
In lakes and waterways where the mussels have appeared, they have been known to disturb the balance of native ecosystems. They compete with small fish for food and resources, alter the chemical balance of the water and have even been known to contribute to botulism poisoning among aquatic birds, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The ecological impact is only one of the concerns raised by the mussels, Stephenson said. The mussels, which settle in large groups and cling to a variety of surfaces, can clog pipes. In Big Bear Lake that could mean damaging the dam or destroying the piping system that allows the ski resorts to make snow from lake water.
Recreation could also be affected, Stephenson said. “People don’t want to leave boats in the lake if they know there are mussels in there.”
Stephenson said the threat is very real since many boaters take their vessels from one lake to the next.
“Every year we catch half a dozen vessels with viable mussels on them,” Stephenson said. That estimate is only a portion of the issue. The MWD boat launches represent only a fraction of boats going into the lake, and Stephenson said Big Bear Lake’s marinas have been great partners to the district in helping fight off infestation. Many marina employees even come to the MWD for special quagga inspection training, he said.
The public is largely cooperative with the effort, too, Stephenson said. “I think most people already know this is important,” Stephenson said. “The hard part is to convince the last 5 percent to care.”
Stephenson said the new grant will help in those efforts. He said he also plans to apply for more funding next year.
“We’ll continue to fight as hard as we can. We’re not giving up,” Stephenson said.
For more information on the MWD’s quagga efforts, visit www.bbmwd.com/quagga-mussel-education.