A tiny freshwater mussel is causing a little ruckus in the Lakewood subdivision as property owners debate how to keep that invasive species out of their lake.
It’s already too late for nearby Lake Lotawana, where the clam-like zebra mussel is already plentiful and a nuisance.
The Lakewood Property Owners Association is proposing rules that dictate mandatory power washing of boats with hot water, if they’ve been used on a lake other than at Lakewood and other precautions.
Security staff would be inspecting each boat, looking for mussels or for a sealed tag that indicates it hasn’t been in water elsewhere.
When a boat is taken off Lakewood Lake, security would install a new, sealed tag. A returning boater with seal intact would be waved through the inspection.
Lakewood would erect locked gates on the boat ramps to force compliance; owners would telephone the 24-hour security staff for inspections. If a zebra mussel is found, the boat would be quarantined.
That rule and others are to be decided by the LPOA board June 13.
Any owners caught avoiding the rules could be subject to a $5,000 fine.
Some boat owners and residents, like Rex Murdock and Walt Hammond, think the LPOA is going too far.
As fishermen they agree precautions are needed, but they frequently pull their boats out and go to other lakes, so they contend those rules will be very inconvenient and expensive.
“I don’t think it’s a good deal at all,” Hammond said. “They can do something different.”
He said most people know how to drain their boats and spray them down.
Rex Murdock wondered if it’s necessary, why don’t other area lakes take such steps.
“I don’t know of any other place that does this,” Murdock said. “If you go to Lake Jacomo, they don’t make you power wash your boat, they don’t have a gate.
“This is going to an extreme... it’s intrusive.”
Murdock suggests an alternative could be to have gates with padlocks that boaters could open, giving them the combination once they’ve completed an annual seminar that explains how to stop the mussel’s spread.
Sean Bachtel, director of community relations for the LPOA, said the board has been discussing the proposed rules, and the current proposal is a compromse between two extermes. But everyone is agreed they want to keep the mussels out.
“It’s a lake killer,” Bachtel said. “If they got in we’d see the effects in a couple of years.”
He said the LPOA is hoping it can make the inspections quick and efficient.
The Missouri Department of Conservation is asking all boaters and fishermen to be aware of the threat to area lake and rivers.
Tim Banek, invasive species coordinator for the MDC, said the mussels come from Eurasia and were first noticed in the U.S. Great Lakes region decades ago.
“They’ve had a drastic effect on the ecosystem there,” he said.
In Missouri it’s also been found in the Lake of the Ozarks, Smithville Lake, Missouri River, and at Schell-Osage Wildlife Area, and in Kansas waters too.
The prolific mussels are filter feeders which eat plankton.
One adult can produce a million larva in a year. It causes a cascade of problems.
They will compete for food with sport fish fry and forage fish, such as gizzard shad.
The lack of plankton increases visibility in the lake water, allowing sunlight to penetrate deeper and cause algae blooms, clogging a lake. Adults cover hard surfaces, wiping out native mussels, covering boat bottoms and docks, or water intakes.
Razor-sharp dead mussel shells can litter a beach.
Banek said once the mussels become widespread, it would ultimately harm sport and commercial fishing in Missouri, although there aren’t studies that can predict how bad the damage might be.
Their microscopic larva can be spread by water in live wells, minnow buckets, or on life jackets and water toy, and adults on boats or boat lifts moved from lake to lake.
Possession or transportaton of the species is prohibited in Missouri, Banek said.
In 2010 the mussels were discovered in Smithville Lake. A commercial operator moved boat lift there which harbored the mussel. The operator was prosecuted and fined, Banek said.
Banek said there are lakes in western states implementing such tough rules similar to Lakewood’s proposal to keep the mussels out.
The conservation department doesn’t have the resources to police all the lakes, so it must emphasize public education and cooperation, he said.
Weatherby Lake, north of Kansas City, has made a rule that its residents should designate specific boats, life jackets and water toys for use on their lake and only use them on that body of water.
The best way to keep zebra mussels from spreading is cleanliness.
Get rid of standing water in boats that can harbor the larva, called veligers, by draining and washing live wells or bilges. Use water of at least 104 degrees or with bleach, which will kill them. Most commercial car washes would be hot enough.
Inspect watercraft, lifts or docks being moved for adult mussels.
Let a boat or life jackets and other equipment dry thoroughly before using it at different lake.
“They can live out of water several days, or even a couple of weeks, depending on the humidity and temperature,” Banek said.
Lakewood is not alone in trying to defend against invasion.
The conservation departmen in Kansas City is encouraging the 16 private lake communities in the Kansas City region to take steps for containment of the mussels.
Raintree Lake in Lee’s Summit will depend on awareness.
Rachelle Vandiver, general manager of the Raintree Lake Property Owners Association, said their community’s only viable option is education.
She said Raintree doesn’t have security patrol that would make it possible to insist on inspections.
Large signs are posted at Raintree Lake explaining the threat and they send notices to homes, she said.
“We make them understand if we get zebra mussels in the lake, they brought them in,” Vandiver said. “It only takes one.”
Dan Ferguson, a spokesman for Jackson County, said there have been no reports of zebra mussels on any of the county lakes.
The U.S. Corps of Engineers, conservation department and several biology students have conducted surveys for the invasive mollusk, but none have been found, he said.
Ferguson said at this time, the county has not established any regulations regarding the decontamination of incoming boats. However, he said, all the marinas and most boat ramps have posters explaining the dangers of zebra mussels and describe decontamination methods. The marinas also inspect all boat lifts and marine equipment before installation.
Lake Lotawana has been living with the unwanted critters for several years.
Judy Bagby, on the Lake Lotawana Association staff, said they’ve stocked red-eared sunfish, which eat them, hoping to cut down on their numbers. But they won’t be eradicated.
They cover docks, bottoms of boats and foul motors and pumps.
“Just a pain,” Bagby said. “We wish we didn’t have them. They’re a big nuisance.”