Casitas Lake now closed to private boating over quagga mussel fears


Mar 11, 2001
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<div align='left'>Outdoor News Service

Water agency heads are thrilled about quagga mussels.

The invasive mollusk will clog their water systems more effectively than a Barney doll will plug up your toilet when flushed by a three-year-old.

So why are the bureaucrats happy?

If they don't already have quagga mussels, the mere threat of them gives the agency brass an excuse to do something they've been wanting to do for years: close their lakes and reservoirs to public use.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is a perfect example. Here is an agency that kept Haiwee Reservoir in Inyo County closed for decades for no good reason. When some local anglers and one fishing attorney teamed up to bring the LADWP in compliance with state law that mandates that anglers be allowed access, they grudgingly opened the reservoir. Then came 9-11. And under the guise of protecting the public's water supply, the LADWP brass slammed the gates closed again on Haiwee.

Never mind that having anglers at the lake added more eyes to keep an eye out for terrorists trying to dump poison into the lake. Never mind that this water passes through -- oh -- a half dozen water checks where any problems would be detected. It really wasn't about security. LADWP honchos never wanted people fishing the lake in the first place. It was too much trouble, and under the made-up guise of some "terrorist threat" they closed it again. The fishing attorney has retired. It's closed again.

Now water agencies have a very real threat to their entire water supply system. Quagga mussels are tiny and reproduce with amazing rapidity. In a couple of years, masses of them can carpet a lake bottom, cover docks, and jam valves, pipes, and aqueducts. Because they are tiny, they can easily hitch rides attached to fishing and recreational craft. They can live out of water for days, weeks even. In bilge water, they can live months. A bass boat can be on Lake Havasu one weekend, pick up a few quaggas, and then transport them to Lake Casitas the next weekend.

Water agencies were alerted to this problem in California about the time of 9-11, but they've refused to do any proactive planning or develop measures to keep the mussels out of California water systems. Now the mussels are in the Colorado River system, which is attached to most of Southern California's municipal water supply. Again, never mind that the mussels will be able to work their way through the piping system just about everywhere, let's target those people we really don't want to deal with at those water supply reservoirs. Let's ban fisherman and recreational users. If they can't bring their boats, jet skis, ski boats, canoes, kayaks, or float tubes, most of them won't come.

Can't you hear them thinking: "Maybe we can ban all public access. Those quagga's could live a long time on boot and tennis shoe soles. Those people could step in the water." It would all be in the name of protecting our water supply and keeping water rates down. Duck. The sky is falling. Or is that a bass boat?

Last week, the Casitas Municipal Water District banned all private boats not already in slips or in dry dock at Casitas Lake. With a reputation as one of the best big bass fisheries in the country, this water attracts anglers from across the nation. Recreational fishing is a major artery in little Oak View's economy. The district board clamped that artery off.

While I don't want to downplay the impact the mussels could have on any water system, the same agencies that now want to ban anglers -- and you can bet they are all lining up to do the same thing done at Casitas -- have done little or nothing to develop inspection or disinfection stations that are thorough and quick. They have known this problem was coming for years.

Lake Cuyamaca and Lake Wohlford were the first Southern California waters to be closed to private water craft, and last week's Casitas decision is just the first of a whole succession of waters that will likely be closed. Quickly. If you thought the emission standards mandated for private craft at Diamond Valley was a bad deal, just wait. It's going to get worse.

Yet, there are other alternatives.

At the Fred Hall Show this past week in Long Beach, the Department of Fish and Game was trotting around a quagga-sniffing dog. Could it sniff out a single mussel? Probably. That sounds like a pretty quick and cheap solution for water agencies. Imagine if they all had started training dogs five years ago.

It will be easier to ban anglers. Agency experts simply say there are no guarantees with a sniffing dog, and the only sure solution is to eliminate the human transport mechanism. This is the equivalent of locking three-year olds with Barney dolls out of the bathroom. It might work, but there are other consequences. The result of both actions is the same: What's that smell?

Shhhhhh. Now use another sense. Can you hear the padlocks being snapped shut?

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