Can a filter on a boat stop zebra mussels?

boat filter
The "Mussel Mast" boat filter designed for wake sport boats can stop the spread of zebra mussels. Elizabeth Dunbar/MPR News

Watershed district managers, lake association leaders and others attending a symposium on invasive species today learned about a new filter that has been shown to stop zebra and quagga mussels from spreading via ballast tanks in so-called "wake boats."

Big ballast tanks allow the boats to make waves suitable for wake boarding and water skiing. But cleaning the tanks has become a source of frustration for some boat owners because of the extra time, and sometimes cost, to make sure they're free of mussels.

"They're very difficult to see and to get to," said Larry Meddock, the executive director of the Water Sports Industry Association, who spoke at the symposium in St. Paul about the filter, which was just announced a few weeks ago.

Although the filter fits on existing boats and six manufacturers have agreed to install it on new boats, Meddock admitted it would only cover a fraction of all the boats on Minnesota waters. But he says the filter demonstrates how changes in boat design can help stop the spread of aquatic invasive species and he encouraged Minnesota leaders to put pressure on manufacturers to install them.

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"The consumer has the power to influence the manufacturer," he said. "I think there is a chance to get the industry to change."

The spread of aquatic invasive species in Minnesota's lakes and rivers is a big problem, but no one agrees on how to solve it. And many believe it isn't possible to stop the spread. Lake associations have called for mandatory inspections and boat decontamination stations and have said state leaders aren't committing enough money to tackle the problem.

That sentiment was repeated at the symposium when two state lawmakers, Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, and Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, showed up to offer an update on legislation and answer questions.

Gabriel Jabbour told them the University of Minnesota's aquatic invasive species center that the Legislature created doesn't receive enough funding. The research center's budget is less than what Lake Minnetonka spends each year to treat the lake for milfoil weeds, said Jabbour, a Lake Minnetonka marina owner who serves on a Department of Natural Resources invasive species advisory board.

Wagenius agreed the Legislature isn't giving the university enough money, but she said the state shouldn't be the only source of research money. And she said a small amount of funding can make an impact if it's used wisely.