The specter of a potential invasion of non-native quagga, or zebra, mussels has the Northwest Power and Conservation Council and staff, as well as the four Northwest states they represent, working on at least two fronts.
The Council has asked its states’ – Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington – congressional delegations to deliver $2 million next year to help fund more exhaustive border inspections that might identify boats contaminated with invasive mussels, and cleanse afflicted craft before they are launched in local waters.
The fear is that boats from mussel infested waters in the Midwest and Southwest will transport the damaging mollusks to the Northwest. Infestations of the mussels, which are native to eastern Europe, have proven to menace freshwater infrastructure, such as dams and other water supply devices, as well as the native environment.
The Council’s Phil Rockefeller of Washington said last week that the March request for funding represented a “second line of defense,” as opposed to controlling quaggas at the source – the inspection and decontamination of boats leaving infested locations such as Lake Mead on the Colorado River along the Arizona-Nevada border.
The issue was discussed during a July 10 meeting of the NPCC’s Fish and Wildlife Committee in Boise.
“Council staff has fielded several calls from congressional offices, but they were primarily clarifying questions from staffers. Presently we don’t have a clear sense of whether this request is being considered or not for FY 2013 funding,” according to a June 28 memo prepared for the Council by Jim Ruff, the NPCC’s manager for Columbia River Mainstem Passage and River Operations, Washington NPCC policy analyst Raquel Crosier and Amy Ferriter, Idaho Department of Agriculture invasive species coordinator.
“However, Sen. Murray (WA) has included report language in FY13 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill encouraging ‘the Corps of Engineers, in partnership with the BPA, to continue its efforts to develop invasive mussel vulnerability assessments for federally-owned hydropower projects in the Northwest.’ The language also ‘urges the Corps, where appropriate, to assist the States in their efforts to prevent the spread of invasive mussels to Federal projects in the region.’”
A May 22 letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Southwest Region assistant administrator notes that “In recent years, quagga and zebra mussels have been spreading rapidly throughout the West on transported watercraft.
“The estimated costs to the region, if they became established and reproduced, would be hundreds of millions of dollars a year,” the letter signed by NPCC Chair Joan Dukes says. “The state of Idaho has also projected that these mussels would cost its residents $94 million per year. The impact on native fish and wildlife in the Columbia River Basin, and the region’s investments to recover endangered salmon, would be devastating.
“To protect the Pacific Northwest economy and the ecology of the basin, it is absolutely critical that the Department of Interior contain contaminated boats within the lower Colorado River system through a comprehensive inspection and decontamination program and associated water access security and enforcement.”
The letter urged that a $1 million congressional appropriation for fiscal year 2012 be spent exclusively to inspect and, when necessary, decontaminate recreational boats leaving Lake Mead.
“The FY 2012 Interior Appropriation bill included clear and direct language to the U.S. Department of Interior:
‘This bill includes $1,000,000 towards the implementation of mandatory operational inspection and decontamination stations at Federally-managed or interjurisdictional water bodies considered to be of highest risk, as called for in the February 2010 Quagga-Zebra Mussel Action Plan for Western U.S. Waters’”.
Ruff told the Council last week that “less than half” of the appropriation for fiscal year 2012, which ends Oct. 1, is being spent to inspect boats leaving Lake Mead. Much of the appropriated funding is being spent to shield other Southwest reservoirs that have not, to this point, been infested. Some is being spent for research and administration purposes instead of on inspections as the legislative language directed, Ruff said.
“We are concerned that while some of the actions proposed to be undertaken with 2012 funding have merit, they do not provide the mandatory inspection stations at Lake Mead or other federal waters in the lower Colorado River, as is intended in the appropriation language,” the May 22 memo says.
“The Council continues to believe the most effective approach is a two-part plan of action:
1) Inspection and decontamination stations are needed at Lake Mead as a first priority, and then at other southwestern waters, where most of the contaminated watercraft arriving in the Northwest have come from. All other proposed expenditures are of lesser value and priority and, in our view, should not be undertaken at this time.”
A total of 48 contaminated boats have been identified at Idaho border inspection stations this year, including 28 from the Southwest and 17 from the Great Lakes region. A total of 20 have been identified at Washington inspection sites; all of those boats were from Lake Mead.
The Council has said the Northwest region, where no invasive quagga or zebra mussel infestations have been found, needs to step up to the plate. That includes federal agencies charged with protecting fish and wildlife and that own valued hydro, water supply, recreation and irrigation infrastructure.
Agencies such as the Bonneville Power Administration , the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Reclamation and NOAA Fisheries “should be thinking of interdiction” as a higher priority than a response (to invasion) mode, Rockefeller said.
“These are federal assets and it’s the states trying to determine how to preserve them,” Rockefeller said. BPA markets power generated in the Federal Columbia River Power System; the Corps and Bureau operate the dams, and NOAA Fisheries is responsible for assuring that salmon and steelhead protected by the Endangered Species Act are not imperiled by the dams.
Idaho state Rep. Eric Anderson of Priest Lake, an active crusader as regards mussel invasion prevention, said all parties involved need to boost their efforts.
“If we do not do more we are going to look back and say we needed to do more,” Anderson told the Council. The potential damage from mussels would be widespread, ranging from agriculture to hydro production to fish and wildlife and the overall natural environment.
“The states feel they’re alone on this issue,” said Ruff.
A workshop, sponsored by the Western Regional Panel of the 100th Meridian Initiative will be held on Aug. 22-23 in Phoenix, Arizona to discuss legal and regulatory authorities with regard to watercraft inspections and invasive mussels. The purpose of the meeting, which is intended for state legislators, AIS coordinators, state law enforcement supervisors, staff from state Attorney General offices and others, is to educate the legal and enforcement community about invasive mussels and their ecological and economic impacts.