More robust mussel prevention needed at local reservoirs
Jun 4, 2018 at 2:00pm
By Mary Callahan, The Press Democrat
A specially trained dog named Noah is receiving well-deserved praise after preventing a mussel-infested watercraft from launching Saturday in Lake Mendocino — a frighteningly close call that public officials say underscores the need for long-delayed, full-time measures to protect regional reservoirs and critical infrastructure from exposure to the destructive organisms.
The blond Labrador retriever is one of several mussel-sniffing dogs deployed at lakes Sonoma and Mendocino on summer weekends to suss out tiny quagga or zebra mussels — related species of thumbnail-sized bivalves that, once introduced, reproduce in such abundance they can quickly wreak havoc on lakes or reservoirs.
It’s the first time since the dogs came into use in the region five years ago that one of the mussels has been detected, a result Sonoma County Water Agency spokesman Brad Sherwood termed “bittersweet.”
“It was bad news that we found mussels,” Sherwood said Sunday, “but it was good news that we found them.”
Extremely lucky, as well — “a big wake-up call,” Mendocino County Supervisor Carre Brown said.
The Army Corps of Engineers, which operates the dams at the two reservoirs, has $725,000 in county and state startup funding set aside for a mussel inspection and prevention program that has been in development since at least 2014.
But it has yet to implement a plan, prompting what state Sen. Mike McGuire described as “growing frustration” among public officials and stakeholders.
“Thank goodness for Noah the mussel-sniffing dog,” said McGuire, D-Healdsburg. “He saved the day over the weekend, but we need permanent protection.”
The Sonoma County Water Agency has contracted with Central Valley-based Mussel Dogs to provide a bridge to a more permanent program, but the boat easily could have launched when the Noah and his colleagues were off duty, Sherwood said.
The dogs only work during the warm months of the year and then only three days a week, when the boat ramps are at their busiest, sniffing around arriving vessels and trailers for the scent of the crescent-shaped shellfish or their microscopic juvenile form, when they are called veligers.
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