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Northwest States Want Tougher Boat Inspections At Lake Mead To Reduce Threat Of Quagga Mussels
Posted on Friday, February 10, 2012 (PST)

Northwest states and Canadian provinces have launched a letter-writing and lobbying campaign to assure that a $1 million appropriation line item in the Department of Interior’s fiscal year 2012 budget is spent to help cut off the spread of invasive quagga-mussels from a main source – the Park Service’s Lake Mead National Recreation Area.


The move comes from The Northwest Power and Conservation Council, state of Idaho, Colorado River Fish and Wildlife Council and Pacific Northwest Economic Region. The NPCC is comprised of representatives of the states of Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington; the Colorado council represents fish and wildlife agencies from Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. PNWER includes membership from Northwest states and Canadian provinces.


The appropriation bill language directs the “implementation of mandatory operational inspection and decontamination stations at Federally-managed or interjurisdictional water bodies considered to be of highest risk,” but doesn’t specifically mention Lake Mead.


All want to prevent the spread of quagga, and zebra, mussels from the Southwest to the Northwest. They fear devastating consequences to the Northwest region’s water-related infrastructure such as hydro projects and irrigation systems and to its environment.


Quagga mussels, a species native to eastern Europe, were initially introduced in the 1980s throughout the Great Lakes and the Ohio River and Mississippi river basins, likely taking the ride across the Atlantic Ocean on cargo ships. Quagga mussels were first detected in the American West in January 2007 at Lake Mead, a reservoir on the Colorado that straddles the Arizona-Nevada border. Quagga or zebra mussels have since then been found in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, Texas and Utah, but not in the Pacific Northwest.


They have spread via a number of pathways. Adult mussels easily cling to hard surfaces such as boats and can be spread when boats are trailered from one waterbody to the next.


“Of immediate concern are the high risk vessels leaving mussel-infested federal water bodies such as Lake Mead,” according to a January letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar from Celia Gould, Idaho state Department of Agriculture director and head of the state’s Invasive Species Council. “More than a dozen fouled boats have been intercepted by the Idaho program that came directly from federally managed waters on the lower Colorado. The majority of these boats originated from Lake Mead National Recreation Area.”


“If quagga mussels and zebra mussels make their way into Pacific Northwest waters, the impacts of these species throughout our region will be extreme – affecting fishing, drinking water, irrigation pipes for agriculture and residential communities, and recreational pursuits such as boating,” Gould said. “Additionally, the economic, social and recreational pursuits influenced by hydropower and other dams will be impacted, as well as gold courses, hatcheries and the aquaculture industry. The consequences of introducing these aquatic invasive species to Pacific Northwest waterways would be devastating.


“If an effective mussel containment program could be implemented at LMNRA in the near term, this action would greatly reduce the number of contaminated boats entering Idaho’s waters,” the Idaho letter said.


PNWER likewise is urging the Northwest congressional delegation to support increased funding for inspections at Lake Mead.


A letter dated Feb. 2 asks federal agencies to “implement a comprehensive and effective boat decontamination effort at Lake Mead and other infested water bodies in the West.


“All boats leaving infested waters must be subject to inspection and removal of attached mussels and larval mussels in standing water,” the PNWER letter says. “Quagga and zebra mussels are spreading rapidly through the West on trailered, recreational boats. These mussels are projected to cost millions of dollars to mitigate their impacts if they become established in our region.


“A recent study of the hydropower facilities on the Columbia River indicated that mussels, if they become established, will cost about $25 million per year in added maintenance. These costs, of course, will be passed on to consumers, a potentially crippling blow to an already struggling western economy,” the PNWER letter says. “The State of Idaho has projected that zebra and quagga mussels will cost residents of that state $91 million per year. In addition, these and other aquatic invasive species will have incalculable impacts on native fish and wildlife in the Pacific Northwest, with potentially devastating impacts on threatened and endangered salmonids.”


“While our states have established watercraft inspection and decontamination stations, the chance of contaminated boats entering our waters would be much lower if an effective mussel containment program could be implemented at Lake Mead National Recreation Area,” according to a Feb. 3 letter from the NPCC signed by Chair Joan Dukes of Oregon. “Furthermore, it is critical that such a program be implemented without delay, as seasonal boats will begin returning to Pacific Northwest waters in early spring.”


The $1 million this year would help. But it may be a drop in the bucket in an effort that would have to be sustained over time.


“The enormity of the problem” has been daunting for the Interior Department and Park Service, according to the NPCC’s public affairs chief, Mark Walker. He and the NPCC’s mainstem passage and operations manager Jim Ruff updated the Council on the issue Tuesday. Walker said the Park Service has estimated it would take 72 new full-time equivalent positions at the massive park to implement mandatory inspections of all the boats that come and go 24 hours per day and seven days per week.


The 1.5 million acre park includes Lake Mead, which is the largest reservoir in the United States, and Mohave Lake. There are eight developed boat ramps at Lake Mead, each that can handle about 10 loadings and/or unloadings at one time, according to Park Service biologist Brian Moore.


The park gets 25 million visitors annually, and can see as many as 5,000 boats on Lake Mead on weekends.


“It’s really hard for us to regulate all of the boats” with the available staff, Moore said. The emphasis since 2008 has been on “slipped” boats – water craft that is moored at the park’s licensed marinas. Boats that are moored for a time are the most likely to become contaminated.


The concessionaires that run the marinas must include in the rental contracts the requirement that boats be inspected before they leave the marinas. The park service also posts notices “on every dock and every gate” about the need for boat inspections. But, given the traffic, and again lack of staff, it’s easy for boat owners to skirt such requirements, Moore said. The inspections cost the boaters time and money.


Inspections at the six main park entrances pose logistical and funding issues as well. Since complete inspections and decontamination can take up to five hours, as an example, for a house boat, the entrances would become clogged given the current infrastructure. More law enforcement personnel, as well as inspection personnel, would be needed.


The Park Service does have, again, since 2008, four permanent inspection/decontamination stations working primarily at the marinas. Each was purchased at a cost of about $250,000 and cost $5,000 to install, Moore said. The LMNRA also has two portable units operating.


“We’re trying to get the boaters to comply,” Moore said.


“We’d like it to be zero,” he said of the number of contaminated Mead-origin boats found at Northwest inspection stations.


For more information the 2010 Council report "Economic Risk Associated with the Potential Establishment of Zebra and Quagga Mussels in the Columbia River Basin" can be found at


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