Utah joins massive effort fighting threat of invasive mussels to area waterways

Mussel cluster courtesy of Nevada County Resource Conservation District. St. George News

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA — Invasive mussels that cause economic and ecological threats to waterways and aquatic ecosystems throughout the West are the focus of a multi-pronged package of actions and initiatives backed by state, federal and tribal agencies, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke said in praising the team effort.

More than 70 federal, state and tribal government officials have been working on the package, which presently includes 41 measures, for the past three month, Zinke noted in a news release.

“Stopping the spread of invasive mussels and increasing our Federal-State-Tribal coordination are both critical priorities in order to ensure that we maintain hydropower as a clean, reliable, cost-effective source of energy for the West and protect our outdoor tourism economies,” Zinke said.

Protecting our waterways and ecosystems is not a partisan issue and I’m glad to work with governors as the states, tribes and federal government combat the spread of invasive species. By working as an integrated team to prevent, contain and control invasive mussels, Americans will be able to experience the full benefits of hydropower and enjoy their rivers, lakes and streams for recreation for years to come.”

A DWR employee decontaminates one of two boats that came into Utah from a water that’s infested with quagga mussels. The decontamination took place at a May 13 checkpoint south of St. George. May 13, 2011 | Photo by Lynn Chamberlain, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources

Utah joins Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, Oregon and Wyoming on the team.

Agencies involved include staff from Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Geological Survey, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, National Park Service, and Bureau of Land Management.

Tribes, state representatives, and staff from other departments including the Army Corps of Engineers Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the State Department are also participating.

Invasive quagga and zebra mussels clog hydroelectric facilities and irrigation systems, as well as damage aquatic ecosystems.

In the Great Lakes region, invasive mussels cause more than half a billion dollars of damage a year, and have dramatically changed the ecosystem. They pose a similar threat across the West — particularly in the Columbia River Basin — and in others including the Colorado River Basin.

Zinke noted that experience in some areas has shown that a hydroelectric dam infested with invasive mussels may need to spend $500,000 a year in extra maintenance to control the damage posed by these pests, costs that then get passed on to consumers and businesses.

Invasive mussels also may disrupt ecosystems to the degree that they may cause new listings under the Endangered Species Act. In addition, mussel infestations threaten agriculture, navigation locks, and the biodiversity that supports much of the western outdoor recreation industry.

Quagga mussels at the Wahweap Marina at Lake Powell, date unspecified | Photo courtesy of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, St. George News

The package developed by the team includes federal, state and tribal initiatives. Interior’s bureaus, for example, collectively spend about $8 million a year on combating invasive mussels.

In the current fiscal year, Interior is increasing that spending by $1 million through the Bureau of Reclamation.

In addition, the Bureau of Indian Affairs recently awarded $683,000 in project funding to tribes in the Pacific Northwest to help prevent the spread of quagga and zebra mussels.

In fiscal year 2018, Interior requested Congress to provide Reclamation with another $4.5 million increase. Likewise, the Army Corps of Engineers previously has committed $5 million to this effort.

Other parts of the package include actions such as preventing and containing the spread of invasive mussels by inspecting and decontaminating recreational watercraft — one of the primary pathways of spread; enhancing sampling efforts and detection techniques to search for new introductions; and convening workshops to share best management practices on control strategies. The whole package is available for viewing here.

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