Lake Tahoe, CA/NV – As Lake Tahoe watercraft inspections shift to winter operations, inspectors report intercepting far fewer vessels this year with aquatic invasive species (AIS) onboard. They credit improvements to the program as part of the reason.
The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) and the Tahoe Resource Conservation District (Tahoe RCD) announced today that out of 5,800 boats, jet skis, and trailers inspected since January, 56 were found to have AIS onboard and eight of those were carrying quagga or zebra mussels, making this one of the lowest years on record for intercepting the prolific invader. This was a marked reduction from 2021, which was one of the highest ever with inspectors intercepting 132 vessels with AIS and 28 of those carrying quagga or zebra mussels. The high number of discoveries triggered an expanded outreach effort to boaters nationwide.
“Aquatic invasive species threaten Lake Tahoe’s ecosystem, economy, and recreation resources,” Tahoe RCD AIS Program Manager Chris Kilian said. “Boaters are key to protecting these waters and we are committed to providing high-quality services to get them on the water quickly and safely.”
This month, watercraft inspection services made their seasonal move closer to the lake through April 30 next year. Inspections are available during daylight hours at Lake Forest boat ramp in Tahoe City, Calif. from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Cave Rock boat ramp in Glenbrook, Nev. from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. Vessels needing a decontamination, including all watercraft with ballasts, must call ahead. Contact an inspector for more information.
2022 Season Summary
Since the mandatory watercraft inspection program began in 2008, more than 100,000 boats have been inspected and there have been no new AIS detected in Lake Tahoe. A critical component of the program is an effective boater education campaign to ensure vessels, trailers, and gear are Clean, Drained, and Dry before entering the Tahoe Basin.
Around 30 percent fewer boats came through the inspection stations this year than last, likely due to higher fuel prices and unfavorable weather early in the season. However, the number of invasive species detections dropped by 73 percent. Boats need to undergo a thorough decontamination process if there are signs of mud, plants, animals, or water found during the inspection process, or the boat has a ballast system such as a ski or wake boat. Boaters continue to do their part with more than 50 percent of watercraft arriving Clean, Drained, and Dry, further reducing the risk to the Tahoe Region.
Additional Risk-Reducing Measures
In addition to advertising, billboards, and social media, program managers emphasized the new online appointment system this year by placing ads in national publications. In addition to added convenience and reduced wait times, the appointment system improves communication with boaters about the Clean, Drain, Dry message. TRPA and Tahoe RCD also joined a new, nationwide “Call Before You Haul” hotline that puts boat transporters in contact with watercraft inspectors at their destination. The measures likely reduced the number of detections, according to the agencies.
“Strengthening partnerships and adding innovations increases efficiency and further reduces the threat to Tahoe,” TRPA Aquatic Resources Program Manager Dennis Zabaglo said. “Our collaborative approach and focus on helping boaters are part of the reason Lake Tahoe’s program has become a model program in the nation.”
Zabaglo has represented the Lake Tahoe Watercraft Inspection Program to congressional and state legislative bodies and as Chair of the Western Regional Panel on Aquatic Nuisance Species. He was also recently named to a blue-ribbon commission to develop policy solutions to prevent and reverse the spread of AIS in the U.S.
The national recognition has helped attract additional funding to the region. Earlier this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a cooperative agreement with TRPA to fund high-priority Lake Tahoe Aquatic Invasive Species Program projects, including removal of Eurasian watermilfoil, public outreach and education, and investments in permanent inspection stations. A total of $17 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will be available over the next five years, with $3.4 million in the first year. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is also engaging the Washoe Tribe of California and Nevada to support Tribal leadership and involvement in the Lake Tahoe program.
Permanent Inspection Stations
Equipment upgrades and infrastructure improvements such as securing permanent inspection stations are also important to the program’s success, according to Tahoe RCD’s Kilian.
Since 2010, inspectors have annually set up and broken down three to five regional inspection stations, each requiring separate permits and agreements with landowners.
“Pursuing permanent inspection stations can maximize efficiency of the program and build the long-term reliability and sustainability of boat inspections,” Kilian said.
The new federal funding along with funding from the State of Nevada is helping TRPA design the basin’s first permanent station at Spooner Summit near the location of the current inspection site. The agency is investigating opportunities for the Meyers, Calif. inspection station as well.
The Lake Tahoe Aquatic Invasive Species Program is implemented by 40 public and private partner organizations, including federal, state, and local jurisdictions, research partners, public utility districts, and private marinas. The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and the Tahoe Resource Conservation District lead the program in collaboration with the public and private partners. The program’s mission is to prevent, detect, and control aquatic invasive species in the Region so that future generations can enjoy Lake Tahoe. For additional information, contact Jeff Cowen, (775) 589-5278.