Environmental Science students help Lake Chelan Research Institute conduct invasive species survey on Lake Chelan

Lake Chelan Water Quality will be the topic of the next Town Hall Meeting in Chelan. It will be held on April 19, beginning at 6 p.m. in the City of Chelan Council Chambers. The community is invited to become involved and enter the dialogue.

by Richard Uhlhorn

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Phil Long, director of the Lake Chelan Research Institute explains the protocol of conducting an abundance survey on the shores of Lake Chelan to students in the Environmental Sciences Class at Chelan High School 

“It’s an opportunity for them to practice science like real scientists do,” remarked April Slagle, Chelan High School’s environmental science teacher. Her class gathered along the shoreline of Lake Chelan on Tuesday morning to help Phil Long, director of the Lake Chelan Research Institute, conduct an abundance survey of Asian clams, an invasive species that seems to be increasing.

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Phil Long helps a student look for live Asian clams.

“We want the number of live clams,” Long told the students before they descended onto the shoreline. The abundance survey is the beginning of a baseline study to see if these clams are increasing. “We will come back next year to the same location and do another survey. We know it’s increasing.” The question is how much and the baseline will help determine what is happening in the lake.

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The students found lots of Asian clams on the shoreline.

Many people who have lived here for years do not remember seeing this many clams on the lakeshore. Is it a concern… maybe. Long says that Lake Tahoe has a major infestation of Asian clams. “They are thick on the bottom,” said Long. “These are trends that we need to follow.”

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Long helps a student with GPS data entries that will give coordinates for the next team that samples the shoreline for Asian clams.

Long is the developer and director of the Lake Chelan Research Institute which has been formed to study the lake, create scientific baselines to monitor changes and to keep the public aware of those changes.

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Phil Long addressed City Council on Tuesday, March 27 about the need to do a Risk Assessment on Lake Chelan. He talked about the Whatcom County Boat Inspection Program that has inspected over 12,000 vessels for invasive species since the program’s inception in 2012.

Long was at Chelan City Council on Tuesday, March 27, and addressed the Council about Whatcom Boat Inspection Program that was launched in 2012 to prevent the introduction of Zebra and Quagga mussels, and other aquatic invasive species to Whatcom County waters.

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Tegan Ward, Director of the Whatcom County Boat Inspection Program presented their program to the Chelan County Watershed Planning Unit on Wednesday, March 21 at its quarterly meeting in Chelan. 

The program which runs approximately $450,000 a year has been effective in keeping invasive species out of the County’s drinking water. At the quarterly meeting of the Chelan County Watershed Planning Unit on March 21, Teagan Ward, the director of the Whatcom County program made a presentation to the unit.

“We were concerned about what can be transported in the early stages by boats and trailers visiting our area,” she said. Adult mussels can live out of water for up to 30 days and Whatcom County’s program protects 95,000 people who depend on the lake’s water for domestic use.

In 2012, Whatcom County had four inspectors and that has grown to eight. In 2013 they made it mandatory that each vessel was permitted. In 2017 the program conducted 12,000 inspections. The annual inspection permit is $50 which helps fund the program and allows unlimited inspections throughout the year. Penalties for not being inspected can run $250 to $1,000. Three day permits to use the waters cost $20 and non-motorized vessels are $10.

The inspection process includes a complete flushing and high pressure water wash of each vessel with 120 degree water. Water in bilges are reclaimed so insure that no invasive species gets into the lake. “We have done over 40,000 inspections since starting the program,” she said. The program began in Whatcom County with only $35,000 and has reached the half million mark through grants and permit fees.

Ward told the Watershed Unit that education is a huge part of the program now. They also work with the Seaplane Association to make sure any seaplanes using the lake are clean.

NOTE: To date, the State of Washington has been successful in keeping Zebra and Quagga mussels from entering its water bodies. However, the Asian clam, Eurasian watermilfoil, New Zealand mudsnail, Purple loosestrife, and Brazilian eiodea are all present in Lake Chelan.

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The Chelan County Watershed Planning Unit meets in Chelan on a quarterly basis to discuss a variety of topics concerning lake quality, water rights and other issues concerning the lake. 

With 728 water bodies in 45 states, the danger of an invasive species being introduced to our lake is very high. Once introduced the problem can literally cost millions to rectify.

“It’s a fabulous program,” Long said at the City Council meeting. “We need a risk assessment for Lake Chelan. We still don’t have a boat launch to boat launch inspection program.” Long told the Council that the Valley does not want Zebra mussels in the lake.

“It’s a complicated story. We are looking at what’s needed for a risk assessment.”

More information will be forthcoming at the next Town Hall Meeting. The topic is Lake Chelan Water Quality and will include presentations from Chelan County Resources and the Lake Chelan Research Institute. The meeting will take place in City Council Chambers on Thursday, April 19 beginning at 6 p.m.

Residents are encouraged to get involved and enter into the dialogue.

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