Wildlife officials work to limit spread of ‘STD of the sea’ in Utah’s waterways

SALT LAKE CITY -- Clean, drain, and dry. It's the only way to stop quagga mussels from invading Utah waterways, according to Aquatic Invasive Species Biologist Matt Bartley.

"Really nasty little buggers get into the waterways," Bartley said. "They cause a lot of damage that can cause economic, recreational, agricultural, industrial damage."

The small, clam-like species first showed up in Lake Mead in 2007, and the Department of Wildlife Resources has spent the last ten years trying to keep them out of Utah.

"They attach with some byssal threads, and they'll clog up anything that's in the water that's a hard surface," Bartley said.

That means boats, water intake pipes, dam infrastructures, and rocks on beaches. Basically anything in the water that's hard. Once they're in the water, they filter out all the nutrients that are present.

"The way that they eat, they'll filter out all the nutrients that are in the water, including the plankton, and that plankton is the fundamental building block of the food web," Bartley said.

If you're boating in one of the waterways infected by the invasive species, prepare to invest some more time cleaning your boat.

"We have to have a shift of what boaters think of when they expect to go boating," Bartley said. "If you're going to go to a listed water body, it's just going to be part of the process."

Whether that means cleaning it yourself, or scheduling a professional decontamination where technicians use high pressure units that heat the water up to 140 degrees.

It's what needs to be done to keep the water safe from these dangerous critters.

"They don't really have much of a purpose other than creating big problems for Utah," Bartley said of the mussels.

Which may be the reason they're known as the STD of the sea.

Each time you visit a Utah Lake, you'll be asked to complete a decontamination certification form. You can also take a free online course to become certified for the whole year. You can download the form by clicking here.