Boating season has returned to Utah, and along with it, concerns about a tiny critter that can do big damage if introduced into the state's lakes and reservoirs.
Invasive quagga and zebra mussels are small, clam-like creatures that reproduce rapidly and deplete nutrients in the water, damaging ecosystems and destroying recreation opportunities in the process. They can also jeopardize power and water systems by colonizing underwater infrastructure, and can ruin boat engines by clogging water intakes on the propellers.
In western states, the mussels have invaded waters in California, Colorado, Nevada and Arizona, and have been found in two Utah locations: Electric Lake in Emery County and Red Fleet Reservoir in Uintah County.
In 2008, the Utah Legislature made it illegal to possess or transport invasive mussels.
On boat launch ramps statewide, officials with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources now routinely stop people to inspect their boats for mussels and interview them to determine whether they have recently boated on waters infested with quagga or zebra mussels.
The process, while necessary to prevent infestation, can result in long waits for people anxious to get out on the water. This year, however, officials are hoping a new program will make inspection lines move faster.
DWR is now offering an online course that teaches boaters a simple process for cleaning, draining and drying their boats after each use. Those who successfully complete the course, which takes about 40 minutes, can print a certificate of completion.
Those who have the certificate can present it to the inspector at the ramp, answer a few questions about where they have boated recently, and proceed to the launch ramp within a couple of minutes as long as the inspector decides the boat doesn't need to be decontaminated.
"It's a win-win for everyone," said Larry Dalton, aquatic invasive species coordinator for DWR.
"Waters in Utah win because boaters will learn more about mussels than we can teach them at the launch ramps. Boaters win because they won't have to spend as much time with us. They'll be able to get their boats on the water faster."
The online course can be found at http://wildlife.utah.gov/mussels/form_options.php.