ON Kilter: Quagga mussels really are a problem, at what cost this risk?

OPINION – Last week, you might have noticed I had another writer fill in for my ON Kilter column and you further may have noticed it was my wife. You may have aptly deduced from her opining that we think a lot alike; but this should come as no surprise, we spend a lot of time together.

You may have also made the mistake the Washington County Water Conservancy made in its rebuttal to Greta Hyland’s “ON Kilter” opinion. The WCWCD claimed Greta Hyland’s opinion contained false and misconstrued facts about the invasive quagga mussel species and the Utah Department of Natural Resources reporting them to be at the level of infestation in Lake Powell. The mistake made is in underestimating those of us watching this new chapter unfold.

Riddle me this, if it is not a major threat to our fresh water supply and its infrastructure, why is the State of Utah via the Department of Wildlife, putting up checkpoints for incoming watercraft to keep the species out but a pipeline that will directly supply a vessel for the transport of this species can simply apply a few chemicals (in drinking water) to kill them? If it is not a threat, why is it that the Utah Division of Natural Resources regulations define a waterbody as “infested” when at least one juvenile or adult mussel is present; that’s right, one. One quagga mussel is considered infestation, because of the insidious, invasive and prolific nature of the species.

The state and the WCWCD appear to have opposing missions here.

Here are some facts about quagga mussels, derived from studies by the Center for Invasive Species Research, University of California, Riverside, and Arizona Game and Fish Department, worth consideration:

  • They are a freshwater, clam-like species introduced into the United States via barges carrying them in their ballasts when they entered the Great Lakes from Eastern Europe
  • They were first identified in the Great Lakes in 1989 and have since mushroomed across the country via the movement of recreational boats, infesting lakes and reservoirs in Nevada and California and spreading throughout the lower Colorado River Basin
  • They can live for three to five years and can release 30,000 to 40,000 fertilized eggs in a breeding cycle and 1 million fertilized eggs in a year.
  • They can live three to five days out of water
  • They have no known predator in the U.S.
  • They are known to be as dense as 7,790 per square meter
  • They have been found at depths of up to 540 feet in Lake Michigan where they filter-feed year round
  • They clog water intake structures (for example, pipes and screens), which greatly increases maintenance costs for water treatment and power plants
  • They accumulate on docks, buoys, boat hulls, anchors, and beaches can become heavily encrusted, thereby adversely affecting recreational activities on lakes and rivers
  • Their shells are sharp and can cut people, which forces the wearing of shoes when walking along infested beaches or over rocks
  • They encrust lake and river bottoms, which can displace native aquatic arthropods that need soft sediments for burrowing. In the Great Lakes this had lead to the collapse of amphipod populations that fish rely on for food and the health of fish populations has been severely affected.
  • These mussels have been associated with avian botulism outbreaks in the Great Lakes which have caused the mortality of tens of thousands of birds.
  • They have been estimated to bioaccumulate organic pollutants in their tissues by as much as 300,000 times when compared to concentrations in the water in which they are living, because of their filter feeding habit; and these pollutants can biomagnify as they are passed up the food chain as contaminated mussels are eaten by predators (for example, fish and crayfish), which in turn are eaten by other organisms (for example, recreational fishermen)
  • They remove phytoplankton with high efficiency, which can deprive other aquatic species of food
  • They create immense financial burdens and intensive management because of the need to continuously and actively control them.
    • It has been estimated that it costs over $500 million per year to manage mussels at power plants, water systems, and industrial complexes, and on boats and docks in the Great Lakes.
    • Similar yearly management costs are anticipated for California. For example, a recent estimate (2009) by the Army Corps of Engineers indicates that quagga mussels could cause annual losses of $22 million to the Lake Tahoe region should they establish there. The report details potential damage to tourism, reduced property values, and increased maintenance costs.
    • Congressional researchers estimated that invasive zebra mussels, a similar species to the quagga mussel, alone cost the power industry $3.1 billion in the 1993-1999 period, with their impact on industries, businesses, and communities more than $5 billion.

I am sure I don’t have to belabor the obvious threat this is to Utah, Utah wildlife, Utah’s economy, and Utah residents. In a state that doesn’t get much water and thrives on recreation and tourism, the impacts of quagga mussels infesting our rivers, lakes and reservoirs would be catastrophic.

It is not my intention at this point to engage in a debate over de minimis facts. Debate on this serious issue is forthcoming and very well should be. See here how it has begun:

  1. Read the press release that the WCWCD issued on its awareness of the matter. Bear in mind, they did not send it to St. George News as they typically deliver press releases. It was when I made inquiry on the topic, that they supplied it as prepared a week earlier. St. George News chose to run it concurrently with last week’s ON Kilter column.
  2. Read last week’s ON Kilter column on topic.
  3. Read the WCWCD’s rebuttal to last week’s ON Kilter column.

Still with me?

Again, not to dispute facts and intentions here, at least not yet, may I raise these questions because we, the taxpayers of Utah, are the ones who will pay for both the Lake Powell Pipeline and the management and removal of any quagga mussels that find access to Utah waters because of it.

In its first press release on the subject (Item No. 1 linked above) the water district states that a preliminary record of decision on the Lake Powell Pipeline is expected in 2016, with final design in 2018, and construction of the pipeline to begin around 2020.

Is its approval of the pipeline a foregone conclusion?

Listen, I am just a nearly-50-year-old man, not that different from any other. I have seen my share of things on this earth and I have got to tell you, all things being fair, this is a ruse. The motive of this project is questionable at best and suffers one scrutiny after another with inadequate dismissal.

The so-called analyst they have contracted from Las Vegas, Jeremy Aguero, sounds much more like an advocate who presents the citizens of the county with two options: the pipeline or the pipeline. He makes no mention of potential downsides to the project.

I understand business decisions, I understand that most decisions are not risk-free. But responsible decisions at the very least acknowledge inherent risks.

We saw this kind of responsible decision making recently in the City of St. George. Following the government shutdown, the City Council was confronted with a “risk if you do, risk if you don’t” situation over the long-planned Mall Drive Bridge project. In brief, the city had received a favorable construction bid that was due to expire. Due to the shutdown the permitting process with federal agencies was lagging behind. The council had to weigh the risk of losing a quite favorable contract against the risk of approving the contract and potentially having the project forestalled indefinitely, or worse being disapproved altogether. They deliberated for weeks, they were not hasty, and ultimately chose to approve the contract despite its risks. And they discussed and disclosed it all openly. This is the way decisions are made, this is the way decisions are shared with the people who foot the bill.

But the water district, to my observation, advances its decisions denying the risks: risks that if you build the pipeline there may not be water there afterall, risks predicated on and promoting growth (which brings further risks in succession), risks that these insidious and invasive quagga mussels bring. There are others.

I have attended three meetings where Aguero spoke and what most impressed me was not his car sales-like pitch, but the nodding heads of developers, bankers, and real estate moguls who sit on the board of this project.

A senior staffer of WCWCD, Barbara Hjelle, told me once in an interview that I do not understand the complexities of water. I took her challenge to heart and began to study it myself and here’s what I have thus far: Water is actually not that complex at all. Water is wet and it follows the path of least resistance. This is to say, it runs downhill. What is complex, vastly complex, I have learned, is making it flow towards money.

And that, in a nutshell, is what I believe the water district is is trying to do. Period.

Which is why, you as the people who will pay for all of this, to the tune of millions, if not a couple of billion dollars, should be holding these people to a level of scrutiny unsurpassed in the history of this county.

The WCWCD is more like a corporation with quasi-government power and limited accountability than it is a public works. It has lobbying power, it has the power to levy tax, impose fines, and collect tax revenues in addition to its profits from the sale of water and the WCWCD is not accountable to the taxpayers.

To be fair, in the water district’s rebuttal (Item No. 3 linked above), it does acknowledge that quagga mussels are a big deal. But it resolves that big deal stating:

Fortunately, there is a proven track record of success for treating quagga mussels in pipelines. The mussels have existed in our nation for nearly three decades without prohibiting water delivery via pipelines.

Given studies of multiple reputable sources, some of those facts mentioned above, I have to ask – at what cost comes this good fortune of success in treating this species after you’ve built an extraordinarily expensive pipeline that may in the end find a river running dry? At what cost?

See you out there.

Dallas Hyland is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Related posts

Quagga Mussels

Lake Powell Pipeline

Email: dhyland@stgnews.com

Twitter: @dallashyland

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

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15 Comments

  • Bub March 7, 2014 at 1:19 pm

    I’M NOT FAMILIAR WITH INDIVIDUAL NAMES ON THE BOARD OF THE WATER DISTRICT, BUT FROM ALL THAT I’VE HEARD THESE PEOPLE SEEM LIKE THEY’RE ONLY OUT FOR THEIR OWN INTERESTS, AND AS IN MY PREVIOUS COMMENTS I BELIEVE THEY ARE GUILTY OF OUTRIGHT FRAUD IN THE WAY THEY ARE HIDING TRUTHS, MISREPRESENTING FACTS, AND JUST PLAIN LYING. I HOPE YOU WATER DISTRICT FOLKS ARE BROUGHT TO ACCOUNT. I THINK YOUR MAKING ENEMIES A LOT FASTER THAN YOU’RE MAKING FRIENDS. OBVIOUSLY THEY DON’T CARE ABOUT THE INTERESTS OF ALL US ‘PEASANTS’, AS THEY SIT UP THERE IN THEIR GILDED PALACE THAT WE TAX PAYERS PAID FOR. REMINDS ME OF A COMMUNIST DICTATORSHIP…

  • Nonbeliever March 7, 2014 at 1:32 pm

    I am always excited to hear that adding additional chemicals to a water source will solve or control a problem.
    But hey, we have nothing to worry about because the “suits” are always looking out for the consumers . Ahem right…

  • Alta March 7, 2014 at 3:46 pm

    We will have the best of all possible worlds here;

    Higher water rates AND yet more bonds to pay off on the property tax bill
    Low water flows when the pipe is done because lake levels are drastically low
    Quagga and Zebra mussel larvae flowing into your home and
    Biocide chemicals added to your water, just for your drinking pleasure.

    Why indeed should we interfere with the manifest destiny of bankers, developers and builders to build water-craving golf courses and make still more MONEY when the retirees come?

    • Bub March 7, 2014 at 4:42 pm

      Is it possible these nasty little oyster things could start growing in the plumbing of my house?

      • Bender March 8, 2014 at 11:53 pm

        No, culinary water is filtered and chlorinated.

  • skip2maloo March 7, 2014 at 4:09 pm

    Get it, while the gettin’s still something to be got!! Yer all distracted by crooked interests, conflicting projections, and now, freakin invasive sea shells with a name that is painfully embarrassing to say out loud! Look at the Owens Valley experience. Not an example of “clean” politics, but it worked for LA! It’ll happen again if we don’t dig our heels in and stake our claim, even if it means getting dirty. We’ve even got groups in the state that advocate virtually draining Lake Powell. Why? So we (as bona fide bottom dwellers already) can go deeper to the bottom and take pictures! The lower states will revise or simply refuse the CRC someday soon, and we’ll be left high and dry. I fear that someday we’ll look back and realize that the quagga mussels had more spine than we did. We’re from the West, for crying out loud!

    • Bub March 7, 2014 at 4:46 pm

      Maybe skip wants to build his own personal lake… or even sea. What you gonna do with all that water skip?

      • skip2maloo March 8, 2014 at 10:23 am

        No sea. I prefer fresh water, or even a smart water lake. My plans for the lake? Sell the water to the highest bidder. Grab yer guns, ’cause the Kalifornians will soon be comin a callin. Mark my words.

  • Just an Old Man March 8, 2014 at 8:24 am

    Here are some facts about humanoid mussels, worth consideration:
    • They are a fresh air, clam-like species introduced into the United States from Western Europe
    • They were first identified in the California in 1989 and have since mushroomed across the country via the movement of recreational vehicle infesting towns and citys in Nevada and California and spreading throughout the lower Colorado River Basin
    • They can live for too many years and can release 30,000 to 40,000 opinions articles in a breeding cycle and 1 million Letters to the Editor in a year.
    • They can live three to five days away from their freelance writing and documentary filmmaking.
    • They have no known predator in the U.S.
    • They are known to be dense.
    • They accumulate on docks, City hall, coffee shops, book stores, and benchs can become heavily encrusted, thereby adversely affecting recreational activities on Parks .
    • Their tongue are sharp and can cut people to the quick, which forces the wearing of jackets when walking along infested hallways or over rocks
    • They encrust web sites and News Papers, which can displace native settlers that need soft sediments for reading.
    • They create immense financial burdens and intensive management because of the need to continuously and actively appease them.
    I am sure I don’t have to belabor the obvious threat this is to Utah, Utah’s economy, and Utah residents. In a state that doesn’t get much water and thrives on recreation and tourism, the impacts of Humanoid mussels infesting our towns, city and pristine outdoors would be catastrophic.

    • skip2maloo March 8, 2014 at 10:18 am

      And, like the Homo Sapiens who came before them, they need water to survive, and thrive. The least we could do is give them that. Or we can just let the place dry up and rid ourselves of the pesty invaders. Hmmmm…

    • Bub March 8, 2014 at 1:07 pm

      The mussels should have all the rights of citizenship. Lets write up a “Dream Act” for them and give them a path to full American citizenship. Even though they’re invasive and very hard on the economy they are not illegal (as some liberals say “no human is illegal”). We may not like these mussels, but since they’re already (infested) here, we might as well give them a full welfare package even though they don’t belong. So lets ring the bells of liberal virtue and give these invaders full rights to the american dream.

  • Mark March 8, 2014 at 5:40 pm

    I would expect that this day and age the District should be spanked for not placing more emphasis on a reclaimed water system. I retired from a district in which our water (millions gpd) was pumped for at least 25 miles back to origin. Ground water should not be used for golf courses unless necessary, medians, commercial areas, etc. should all require reclaimed. Of course upgrades to the treatment process to terciary water would need to be done. This will be government mandated at some point. The grants are available and this would suffice our communities for a long time along with a strong program of conservation. Why do the people not ever get anything that they want as most oppose this pipeline? Turn the treatment plant at Quail back to the City of St George and disband this unnecessary tax burden to the people. A joint effort from the cities will do just as good a job.

  • DOH March 9, 2014 at 9:43 am

    This project is about fleecing the people of Washington County for the benefit of those will become even more wealthy. The rapid lowering of Lake Powell is very telling, but ignored. The WCWCD hired someone who did a massive study of the pipeline and surrounding issues but when his work didn’t say what they wanted he was dismissed. The WCWCD never even mentions this Doctors name. They then hired the guy from Vegas who has said everything they wanted down to the letter. The level of this fleecing has gotten all the way to the statehouse where more nodding along with payments to other corrupt people. The CRC must be easily changed the way the WCWCD works! Notice how other counties dropped out of this, ever wonder why? I suggest a 99 percent tax on any profits made by those selling land or anything else to do with this fleecing!! The WCWCD appoints their own board who “oversees” them. Just look at the Taj Mahal on the hill and see how the WCWCD operates!!!!!

    • Bub March 9, 2014 at 11:36 am

      I don’t think the mormoms even concern themselves with these issues. If it’s white men in business suits making the decisions then they know that “The Lord” will take care of it. They are always taught to trust the old white men in business suits(“prophets”). What a strange place we live in…

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