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Lakewood property owners work to keep invasive mussels out of their lake

Updated: 2013-06-12T15:27:44Z

By RUSS PULLEY

Special to The Star

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, among other precautions, mandatory power-washing of boats with hot water, if they’ve been used on a lake other than Lakewood, which is in Lee’s Summit.

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, and 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 Thursday by the board of the property owners association.

Any owners caught avoiding the rules could be fined $5,000.

Some boat owners and residents, like Rex Murdock and Walt Hammond, think the association is going too far.

As fishermen, they agree that 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.

Murdock wondered why other lakes don’t don’t take such steps if they’re necessary.

“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 property owners’ group, said the board has been discussing the proposed rules, and the current proposal was a compromise 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 Lakewood Property Owners Association 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 lakes and rivers.

Tim Banek, invasive species coordinator for the department, said the mussels come from Eurasia and were first noticed in the U.S. Great Lakes region about 20 years ago.

“They’ve had a drastic effect on the ecosystem there.”

In Missouri, the mussel also been found in the Lake of the Ozarks, Smithville Lake, the Missouri River and the Schell-Osage Wildlife Area. They’re in Kansas waters, too.

The prolific mussels are filter feeders which eat plankton.

One adult can produce a million larvae in a year, and an infestation 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, they would ultimately harm sport and commercial fishing in Missouri, although there aren’t studies that can predict how bad the damage might be here.

Their microscopic larvae can be spread by water in live wells and minnow buckets, or on life jackets and water toys. Adults can travel on boats or boat lifts moved from lake to lake.

Possession or transportaton of the species is prohibited in Missouri, Banek said.

Banek said there are lakes in western states implementing tough rules similar to Lakewood’s proposal.

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, in Kansas City, North, has made a rule that its residents should designate specific boats, life jackets and water toys for use on their lake and use them only on that body of water.

Lakewood is not alone in trying to defend against invasion.

The conservation department 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 that community’s only viable option is education.

She said Raintree doesn’t have a security patrol that would make it possible to insist on inspections.

Large signs are posted at Raintree Lake explaining the threat and notices are sent 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. Army Corps of Engineers, the conservation department and several biology students have conducted surveys for the invasive mollusk, but none have been found, he said.

Ferguson said that 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 describing 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 the mussels, hoping to cut down on their numbers, but they won’t be eradicated.

They cover docks and 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.”

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