Effort to keep mussels out of Nacimiento Lake enters maintenance phase

Kelley Petersen checks for quagga mussels on Dusty Kahler’s boat at the entrance to Nacimiento Lake.
Kelley Petersen checks for quagga mussels on Dusty Kahler’s boat at the entrance to Nacimiento Lake. The Tribune

The effort to keep insidious quagga mussels out of Nacimiento Lake is entering a new phase, and the San Luis Obispo County Public Works Department is seeking $106,000 to retain the engineering firm that has guided much of its efforts for another year.

While continuing its prevention work, the county is also making the transition “into the operation and maintenance phase,” according to a staff report from county water resources engineer Courtney Howard to the Board of Supervisors.

Public Works wants TJ Cross Engineers to continue to be part of that.Supervisors have placed Howard’s report on their Tuesday consent agenda, which is where they put items they do not intend to discuss.

Quagga mussels are an invasive species that have been spreading into California, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado and Utah waterways over the past five years.

The shellfish “reproduce at incredible rates and cluster and clog boat hulls, propellers, engines and intakes; cover piers and pilings; clog water pipes and intakes; and ultimately coat the water’s edge with sharp, smelly shells,” county engineers wrote last year.

“Worse,” they wrote, “once mussels get a foothold, there is no known way to get them out of our lakes.”Lake Mead in Nevada and Arizona is infested, as are 25 locations in California, including Lake Havasu and the Colorado River, which border Arizona as well.

The closest infested lake is San Justo Lake in San Benito County, which has been closed to the public.Locally, officials have sought to head off the mussels, so far successfully.

Their concern goes beyond just Nacimiento Lake. The $176 million Nacimiento water system, which opened last year and provides water to several communities, consists of 45 miles of pipeline, storage tanks and pump stations.

TJ Cross has provided engineering and management services since 2004, Howard wrote in her report, and has “played an integral part in assisting to initiate, plan and implement mussel prevention.”

It has formed “positive working relationships” with state and local elected officials, homeowners and other stakeholders, Howard wrote. Keeping TJ Cross on board will “ensure that the program does not lose momentum,” she wrote.

In an email to The Tribune, Public Works Director Paavo Ogren wrote that the prevention program is “not fully in place,” adding that the county, in cooperation with Monterey County, has developed “several multiyear strategies.”

“Due to the number of private docks around the lake, the private ramp inspections are still a significant work item,” Ogren wrote.

He wrote that “it is our plan to reduce consultant efforts on the program when it is more of a routine function, but that is not the case at this time.”