By Eric Fisher
PITTSFIELD, Mass. (WGGB) — The tiny mollusk seems unassuming, but it was enough to close boat ramps across Western Massachusetts in 2009. This year, there are new plans to stop the spread of Zebra mussels.
“Everyone’s getting on board, everyone understands the importance of the Zebra Mussel issue,” says Pittsfield Harbormaster Jim McGrath.
To keep boats clean and mussels out, car washes are being retrofitted with equipment to decontaminate boats. At V’s car wash in Pittsfield, a 1oz per gallon chlorine and bleach solution is being used to hose down boats. It’s enough to kill any of the invasive species stuck to parts of the craft. The boat wash costs $2.50, and will be open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Other methods of decontaminating include using scalding hot water (over 140 degrees), or letting a boat or equipment dry for long periods of time (over a week). Zebra Mussels can attach themselves to anything; from boat parts and fishing poles, to boots and tackle boxes.
The mussels are a small freshwater mollusk, typically one inch or less in size. They attach to solid objects, and can spread rapidly once they reach a body of water. Zebra mussels have devastated water bodies in and around the Great Lakes, and have also spread eastward into New York State (Hudson River, Lake George). They’ve also been found in a few lakes in the state of Vermont.
Last year was the first year they were located in Massachusetts, found in Laurel Lake in Lee. The Department of Conservation and Recreation immediately closed boat ramps around the area for fear that the mussels would escape to other lakes and rivers.
“It only takes one Zebra Mussel to get through, and each one of them can produce a million,” says Dick Laureynz, of the Lake Onota Preservation Association.
Laureynz is part of a volunteer squad that’s trying to keep the mussels out of Lake Onota and other areas water bodies. Volunteers are being asked to monitor each boat ramp, asking boaters if they’ve been infested waters.
“It’s the honor system that we have to work with, and it’s us volunteers that try to get the word out,” says Laureynz.
Each boater must now fill out an affidavit, swearing that they have not been in infested waters and that their boat is clean. The form must be displayed on the dashboard of the towing vehicle.
Laurel Lake will also feature boat ramp monitors, a mixture of volunteers and DCR employed specialists.
“The best advice I can give is to simply stay away from Laurel Lake. There’s no risk to being contaminated if you’re not boating in Laurel Lake,” says McGrath.
To help volunteer, you can visit www.onotalake.com