Tahoe Regional Planning Agency column: The fight against aquatic invasive species continues (opinion)
Tahoe RCD in the News: a newspaper article featuring conservation work of the Tahoe RCD and partner agencies and organizations.
The Tahoe Daily Tribune | Joanne Marchetta, Tahoe Regional Planning Agency | May 22, 2019
While it felt like spring had finally arrived, we all know Mother Nature can be fickle, especially at Lake Tahoe.
For those who love to play in the snow, it was a fantastic winter, and a banner year for the Sierra snowpack. Despite some cooler weather now, steady warmer temperatures are on the way and our attention is shifting from the mountains to the lake.
Boating season is here, and our ongoing battle in the fight against aquatic invasive species continues. For 11 years, more than 40 agencies and private nonprofit partners have worked to prevent the further spread of aquatic invasives.
The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and our partners at the Tahoe Resource Conservation District are operating boat inspection stations around the basin. To date, we have been successful in this critical program. No discoveries of new aquatic invasive species have been detected over the last 10 years.
In no small measure, that’s thanks to the engagement of the boating community. Mandatory inspections have so far stopped the spread of aquatic invasive species like quagga and zebra mussels from entering Tahoe’s waters.
The mantra is simple: clean, drain, dry. Everyone launching a vessel at Lake Tahoe, whether it’s motorized or muscle powered, should be proactive in cleaning watercraft thoroughly. Once you clean it, make sure it’s drained and then fully dry before setting out. Research has shown that adult zebra mussels can survive for days out of water.
During the 2018 boating season, inspectors examined some 8,000 watercraft. Forty-four percent of those had been cleaned, drained and dried. But that means 56% of boaters and their vessels arrived at inspection stations with the potential to spread aquatic invasive species to Tahoe’s waters.
Were either of these invasive mussels able to take hold in Tahoe’s waters, their impacts could be catastrophic. Invasive mussels starve native aquatic species of nutrients they need to survive. Both quagga and zebra mussels are prolific procreators, quickly accumulating on underwater surfaces, encrusting docks, boats, and buoys. Their razor-like shells can carpet shallow waters and beaches, making for a painful encounter with the human foot.
There are harrowing examples of what could have been. Last July, Tahoe Resource Conservation District inspectors intercepted a boat infested with multiple aquatic invasive species. An undetected crack in the boat’s pontoon was allowing water to seep in. Inspectors found adult quagga and zebra mussels, and other aquatic plants and snails — a glaring example of how easy it is for an unsuspecting boater to introduce aquatic invasive species to Tahoe’s ecosystem.
While powerboats get most of the attention, local kayakers, paddle boarders, and other non-motorized watercraft users can also unintentionally introduce invasives to the lake. The League to Save Lake Tahoe’s “Eyes on the Lake” program has educated thousands of lake lovers, enlisting an army of citizen scientists to help monitor the lake’s shoreline and report sightings of invasive plants like watermilfoil and curlyleaf pondweed.
The League will offer several “Eyes on the Lake” training classes throughout the summer. Already, 3,000 people have been trained to keep an eye on Tahoe, helping to protect our clear and pristine waters. The Tahoe Keepers program also has enlisted thousands of paddlers in the quest to protect the lake.
Ground zero in the fight against invasive plants is the Tahoe Keys. The area continues to see large-scale infestations of invasive plants so severe that it’s threatening the entire lake.
In a genuinely collaborative undertaking, the Tahoe Keys Property Owners Association (TKPOA) has partnered with multiple organizations to develop a comprehensive plan to stop the spread of invasive plants. Last month, the property association provided the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s Governing Board with an update on the testing to be done in the Tahoe Keys over the next two years.
Testbed studies will be undertaken, using a variety of methods, including the continued application of underwater barriers and the testing of ultraviolet light treatments. The question of whether to use EPA-approved aquatic herbicides is still under discussion and review as part of the testing process over the next few years.
In the meantime, TKPOA and its partners are taking proactive measures to contain these invasive plants within the Keys’ borders. For a second summer, a bubble curtain will operate at the entrance to the Keys. Using a powerful stream of air, this curtain technology dislodges pieces of plant material attached to the bottom of watercraft. Pairing with the bubble curtains, TKPOA has also invested in autonomous sea bins to gather the plant material dislodged from boats leaving the marina.
Protecting and preserving Lake Tahoe’s waters is paramount to TRPA’s mission. Stopping the spread of aquatic invasive species at the lake is a daunting task, and collaborative actions will continue to pave the path to success.
Please join us in this fight and learn more at http://www.tahoeboatinspections.com.
Joanne Marchetta is the executive director of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency
Lake Tahoe, CA/NV
Roadside watercraft inspections stations aimed at stopping the spread of aquatic invasive species are opening for the season. Locations, hours of operation, and opening dates are online at TahoeBoatInspections.com and as follows:
Opening Wednesday, May 1:
8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., seven days a week
- Meyers: at the junction of US Highway 50 and Highway 89, South Lake Tahoe
- Spooner Summit: at the junction of US Highway 50 and Highway 28 in Nevada
- Alpine Meadows: Highway 89, off Alpine Meadows Road north of Tahoe City
Opening Monday, May 20:
8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., seven days a week
- Truckee-Tahoe: Highway 267, off Truckee Airport Road
The watercraft inspection program is entering its second decade of fighting aquatic invasive species at Lake Tahoe. The first 10 years were successful because of partnerships and support from the community, with no new documented invasions since the inception of the program.
“We are grateful to everyone who supports protecting Lake Tahoe from invasive species, especially the dedication and diligence of the Tahoe Resource Conservation District’s boat inspectors,” said Dennis Zabaglo, Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s aquatic resources program manager.
All motorized watercraft require an inspection before launching into Lake Tahoe, Fallen Leaf Lake, Echo Lake, and Donner Lake. Invasive species, such as quagga mussels, New Zealand mudsnails, and hydrilla, are known to quickly colonize underwater surfaces. Knowingly transporting aquatic invasive species into Lake Tahoe is against the law, and violators are subject to fines.
This year, the annual watercraft inspection fee schedule is being simplified, condensing 13 categories to five to make it easier to understand and more accurately reflect inspection work and boat complexity. Decontamination fees were also modified to reflect the work it takes to decontaminate watercraft. To find out how the new fee schedule affects you, please visit: tahoeboatinspections.com
Remember, before arriving at inspections stations: Clean, Drain, and Dry your watercraft. “Save time and money by making sure to drain all water from the intake systems, clean out your vessel, and make sure it is dry,” advises Chris Kilian, AIS program manager for the Tahoe Resource Conservation District.
Transporting boats on roads in the Lake Tahoe Basin and the state of Nevada requires bilge plugs to be removed from the vessel. Draining watercraft during transit helps prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species. Boaters on the water should fill and drain ballast tanks in the same location, making sure they are at least 200 feet from shore.
Invasive species are highly opportunistic, and non-motorized watercraft are also capable of transporting aquatic invasive species. The Tahoe Keepers program informs the paddling community about the importance of inspecting their equipment, keeping Kayaks, paddleboards, fishing equipment, inflatable water toys, and life jackets from spreading invasive species. For more information visit tahoekeepers.org.
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