FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) - Wildlife officials fear an invasive mussel that has been spotted in lakes throughout Arizona will next be introduced to Lake Powell north of Page.
The quagga mussel has appeared in lakes Mead, Havasu and Mohave. Now, managers at Lake Powell are doing whatever they can to keep the organisms out.
If the mussels show up in the lake, they could cause boat motors to overheat and docks and the shoreline to be littered with sharp, smelly shells.
"Basically, the way I see it, just about anything that someone might value about Lake Powell is threatened by this," said Mark Anderson, aquatic ecologist for Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
The strength of quagga mussels lies in their numbers. Dubbed "ecological engineers," the species can populate to a density of hundreds of thousands per square yard and deprive fish and other organisms of food.
There is no effective means of killing the organisms across a large lake, short of poisoning everything.
"They're devastating. I haven't seen anything good about them," said Wayne Gustaveson, fisheries biologist for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.
If the mussel gets to Lake Powell, officials say it will most likely be via one of the 100,000 boats that visit the lake every year. If even one of those boats has been exposed to the mussel and not been washed in hot or high-pressure water afterwards, then the mussel has a good chance of establishing in the lake.
Boaters are supposed to fill out a piece of paper saying they're not likely to expose the lake to mussels. But there's no penalty for not filling out the paper.
Anderson said it's an honor system.
"We're hoping that we can educate people about this so they won't try to subvert it," he said. "If they try, they can do so easily."
Downstream, Lake Mead is attempting to wash houseboats and boats moored for a long time in the lake to prevent the spread elsewhere, a spokeswoman said. That lake sees up to 5,000 boats in a weekend.
Quagga mussels were introduced accidentally to the Great Lakes region in the ballast of ships from eastern Europe and the Ukraine. They can plug pipes up to 12 inches in diameter, and restrict flow in larger pipes.
Information from: Arizona Daily Sun, http://www.azdailysun.com/
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.