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A shell shock stop

Water: Vessels entering local lakes could transmit aquatic pest that clogs pipes

Posted: June 6, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: June 6, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Bass fisherman Hugh Mitchell, left, and Bobby Nelson release water from their bass boat as part of the clean and dry procedures that kill quagga mussel larvea after a day of fishing at Castaic Lake in Castaic on Saturday.

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The county’s mussel-fighting efforts thus far hinge on a single question that boat ramp staff asked visitors at Castaic Lake’s main boat launch Saturday.

“They’ve always asked me where I launched last,” Encino resident Ron Hasson said.

Hasson, who said he’s been boating at Castaic Lake for about 30 years, said it would be very easy for a boater to lie about where’s he’s been and then launch his boat at Castaic Lake.

That’s why the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a $1.8 million expansion of its mussel-fighting program last week.

The money, which will be reimbursed by the state, will go toward education about the seriousness of mussel infestation and amping up boat inspection efforts, said Hugo Maldonado, chief lake lifeguard for Los Angeles County’s Parks and Recreation Department. Maldonado said the mussels breed in the pipes, clogging them.

If the aggressive, freshwater dreissenid mussel infested Castaic or Pyramid lakes, it could cause millions of dollars in damage. The mussel has already infested waters from the Great Lakes to the Colorado River.

Indigenous to Eastern Europe, the dime-sized mussel — cousins of the infamous zebra and quagga mussels — destroys aquatic ecosystems once it gains a foothold in a body of water, damaging reservoirs, dams, pipelines and power plants.

Castaic Lake park officials began asking boaters about their launch habits three years ago, Hasson said.

But some boaters are still unaware of the mussel threat.

Boater Jennifer Grimes was packing up her sport boat at the main launch ramp Saturday and confessed she knew nothing about the dreissenid mussel.

“No one has talked to me about this problem,” she said.

Part of the county’s $1.8 million is earmarked to inform the public about the mussel threat.

Dan Masnada, general manager of the Castaic Lake Water Agency said he was concerned about the possibility of infestation.

“They’re already in the Colorado aqueduct,” he said. “Knock on wood, they’re not in the State Water Project yet.”

The State Water Project supplies its contracted agencies - including the Castaic Lake Water Agency - with water from Northern California via the California aqueduct.

“There’s always a threat that it gets into the state water system,” Masnada said. “That’s a definite possibility.”

Citing a study done by the Department of Water Resources -- the department which will reimburse the county for the $1.8 million program expansion — Masnada said the quagga mussel wouldn’t likely survive in crucial places such as the Oroville Dam. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that the dressenid mussels can survive without water for at least two weeks and sometimes up to a month.

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