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:
- 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.
- Read last week’s ON Kilter column on topic.
- 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.
- ON Kilter: The goose that laid the golden quagga mussels
- Water district says quagga mussels don’t jeopardize Lake Powell Pipeline – March 1, 2014
- Lake Powell infested with invasive mussels – Feb. 27, 2014
- Mussel discovery in Lake Powell; boaters must decontaminate before leaving – April 3, 2013
- State officials expand efforts to battle invasive mussels – May 7, 2012
- Mussels in Utah: so far, so good; except maybe Sand Hollow – Jan. 25, 2012
- Two Boats Decontaminated at Checkpoint, Work Continues to Keep Quagga Mussels out of Utah – May 18, 2011
Lake Powell Pipeline
- ON Kilter: The goose that laid the golden quagga mussels
- Feds cut water from Lake Powell; resource planning committee hears pipeline alternativesCIRPAC meeting on conservation, Lake Powell pipeline
- Lake Powell Pipeline dominates water forum
- Letter to the Editor: Lake Powell Pipeline a ‘Good Ol’ Boy’ scam, a ‘pipe dream’
- Letter to the Editor: The flaws of ‘Fill Mead First’
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