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Mussel plague on Lake Tahoe?

July 3, 2009 |  2:48 pm

Laketahoe3  

Conservationists believe an invasion may be coming that could change the ecology of Lake Tahoe forever.

Quagga and zebra mussels, which cluster onto boats, piers, old boots, beer cans, or anything else that lingers in the water, have infested lakes and reservoirs in California and across the West. A single quagga or zebra mussel lays 1 million eggs a year, so once one creature gets into the lake, "it's all over," said Michael Donahoe, conservation co-chair at the Tahoe Area Sierra Club. The mussels clog boat engines and gobble up fish food, and their razor-sharp shells can cut the feet of unsuspecting beachgoers. 

Conservation groups filed an injunction on Thursday against additional pier and boat ramp construction on the lake, saying that increased boating would drive up the number of potential hosts for the menacing mussels.

No quagga or zebra mussels have been spotted in the lake, said Sierra Club's Ron Grassi, a volunteer boat inspector. But Grassi said he believes a contaminated boat will likely get past inspectors this summer. The mussels latch onto boats, kayaks, wet suits, and other gear, so recreationists could unknowingly transport them.

Boat inspectors check motor boats at launch sites for the tiny larvae, but Grassi says illegal launchers and non-motorized boats escape inspection.

On the busy Fourth of July weekend, Grassi said Friday, boats are lining up 30-deep to get into the water at designated launch points.

Fearing the invasion, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power banned recreational watercraft on Klondike Lake in the Owens Valley in May.

But the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency is expanding the lake's boating capacity by permitting the construction of 128 private piers and six boat ramps as part of the Shorezone ordinance passed in October  2008. 

-- Amy Littlefield

Photo: A paddle steamer carries tourists across Lake Tahoe's Emerald Bay. Credit: Christopher Reynolds/Los Angeles Times

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