My family enjoys it when I pull the boat out and we travel to a nearby lake for a day of relaxation and water skiing. But these types of outings by boat owners are causing a very serious problem to California’s water supply system.
Quagga mussels—sounds like a villainous creature from a late-night horror flick—are now invading our waterways after a relaxing cruise from their home in the Ukraine. They visited the Great Lakes before showing up in Lake Mead on the Colorado River and then crossed the border to various Southern California waterways.
These one-inch in diameter mollusks breed at a rapid pace. A single adult quagga mussel releases as many as 10,000 larvae at a time, up to 1 million in a single reproductive season. They attach themselves to one another and create a wall of mussels that can block water flowing through delivery pipes, forcing water districts to spend extra dollars and man hours to keep their systems clear. The mussels can also strip an area clean of vegetation that other species rely upon for a food supply.
Quagga mussels first showed up in the Great Lakes in the 1980s. Researchers point to water ballast unloaded from visiting ships from Europe as the likely avenue of transport. It was only a matter of time as they hitch hiked their way attached to the hulls of pleasure boats to other regions across the United States.
State agencies have banded together to block these mussels from gaining a permanent foothold in California. State Food and Agriculture inspectors at entry points to California have increased their efforts to fully check any boats to verify they are not harboring the troublesome mussels. Fish and Game officials have stepped up their surveillance at in-state lakes and reservoirs. Boat owners have been warned to thoroughly give their boats a look-over before leaving or entering the water.
The Coachella Valley Water District is taking steps to block the mussels from entering its distribution system by daily adding chlorine into the Coachella Canal close to where it branches off from the All American Canal. We should all hope that the district’s efforts will provide a blueprint on how to stop the march of the mussels.
Meanwhile, you can be assured that I will keep an eye out for any unwanted hitchhikers when my family goes boating.
By Mike Wade, Executive Director
California Farm Water Coalition