Aquatic invaders threaten Lake Tahoe |

Aquatic invaders threaten Lake Tahoe

The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency governing board passed a resolution Wednesday declaring an emergency posed by the threat of invasive aquatic species to Lake Tahoe.

Passed at the bistate planning agency’s meeting in Kings Beach Wednesday, the proclamation elevated the issue’s profile, facilitating the planning and funding for the looming battle against quagga mussels, milfoil and other non-native species.

Ever since the January discovery in Lake Mead of quagga mussels, a striped, yellow-tinged mussel that has wrecked havoc in freshwater lakes throughout the nation, officials have raised concern about their possible spread Tahoe. None are believed to be present in the lake so far.

If the invasive mussel infests Lake Tahoe, they would disrupt the lake’s delicate food chain, clog water pipes and damage boats, docks or ramps by attaching themselves to a structure’s underwater surfaces.

Planning officials stressed the urgency of the situation, saying the agency must take a defensive approach and intervene before the mussel makes an appearance in the lake.

“Once in a system, it’s there and it’s virtually impossible to get rid of,” said Steve Chilton, the planning agency’s chief of environmental improvement branch.

Transportation by boat is the most probable cause of the species’ spread, but animals, particularly birds, also have played a role in the mussel’s ever-expanding presence in North America, said Phil Brozak of the Army Corps of Engineers.

“Boats are the most serious threat,” Brozak said. Boat washing stations where sailors can wash their vessel before it enters the lake should be a primary preventive strategy.

Interested parties need to reach an agreement on a solution to the threat, Brozak said.

Once consensus has been reached, the agency’s resolution will hasten the plan’s implementation. An agreement about how to proceed will likely be reached within the next two weeks, Brozak said.

“The issue is really our collective concern for the Lake Tahoe basin from the threat of invasive species,” said Julie Regan, the planning agency’s chief of communications.

The state of emergency will open new doors for funding, and will signal to other agencies the issue’s importance, Regan said.

Although action against quagga mussels is a top priority for officials – due to the mussel’s presence in the regional waters of Lakes Mead, Havasu and Mojave – officials also expressed concern with other invasive aquatic species, including Eurasian watermilfoil, curlyleaf pondweed, the New Zealand mud snail and zebra mussels.

Agency staff have already initiated preventive measures, hosting public workshops on invasive aquatic species and boat-washing techniques.

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