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Quagga and zebra mussels have yet to invade Bear Lake, as far as anyone knows, and new legislation is aimed at keeping the destructive bivalves from gaining a foothold in the popular lake straddling the Utah-Idaho line.
The proliferation of the exotic mussels would devastate the lake's natural values that support both tourism and agriculture in northern Utah, according to Rep. Ronda Menlove, R-Garland, sponsor of HB333.
One goal of the bill is to steer boaters to Bear Lake's public launch ramps, where their watercraft would likely be inspected for hitchhiking mussels, Menlove told the House Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee Tuesday. The measure exempts owners of private property on the lake.
The committee unanimously endorsed the bill, which would also restrict how close Bear Lake visitors can drive and park to the water. It fixes the no-drive area below the high-water mark, a move that would largely ban vehicles from the exposed lake bed during low-water months, and reduces the speed limit to 15 mph.
"It lays a line. Now people don't have to guess and get their tape measure out," Menlove said. "We have a problem with people driving along the water, racing up and down the beach. This creates safety issues and erodes the beach."
The tiny zebra and quagga mussels are native to Eastern Europe but have appeared in lakes of the American West and Great Lakes. With no natural predators they have proliferated in waters such as Lake Mead, upsetting the ecosystem, littering beaches with sharp little shells, damaging boats and marinas and clogging irrigation lines. State officials are concerned the creatures will spread around Utah's 250 boatable bodies of water by hitching a ride in watercraft, so they spend $1.35 million a year on an aggressive program to prevent their spread. The exotic mussels have so far appear in four Utah lakes, but measures to eliminate them appear to be succeeding, according to Larry Dalton, who supervises the Division of Wildlife Resources's aquatic invasive species program.
DWR staffs launch sites at 41 lakes, including Bear Lake State Park, making sure boaters have followed prophylactic measures and disinfecting boats that have previously floated infected waters. Bear Lake's Utah side has five public ramps, including the park's marina.