News and Commentary - Voice of Idaho Agriculture
Quagga Mussels vs. Franklin County
By Frank Priestley
Franklin County, Idaho is on the frontline in a battle with foreign invaders and leaders there are suggesting strong measures to keep the pests and the myriad problems they present – out.
Due to concerns that quagga mussels could be transported from infected Utah reservoirs, several irrigation reservoirs in Franklin County, popular with fishermen as well as water sport enthusiasts, will be closed to boats in mid to late July when funding for a state funded boat inspection program is expected to run out. The owners of the irrigation impoundments simply cannot afford to inspect boats on their own.
Quagga mussels, believed to have been transplanted to the Great Lakes in the late 1980’s in ballast water of foreign ships, have now spread and infected lakes and reservoirs in 28 states. Utah and Nevada are among the latest to make the list. If Idaho fails to protect its water, we can expect to see declining fisheries and clogged water transmission infrastructure that will hinder the ability to deliver irrigation water.
Quagga mussels are not the only foreign invader that present concern, but they could be the most destructive. These mussels filter plankton, which nearly every aquatic organism, including small fish, depend on for survival. They also multiply rapidly and accumulate on all kinds of underwater surfaces.
Franklin County reservoirs are popular with northern Utah boaters. Veligers, the microscopic larvae of quagga mussels, were recently discovered in Deer Creek Reservoir, located about 50 miles southeast of Salt Lake City. They are believed to have been transported there from Lake Powell, near Utah’s border with Arizona. Quagga mussels were found there in late 2013. All of the reservoirs downstream from Lake Powell on the Colorado River are now contaminated.
Franklin County Commissioners recently voted down an ordinance that would have made boat inspections mandatory, fine uninspected boat owners, as well as provided the authority to limit the number of boats launched per day and limited the size of boats on the most popular reservoirs in the County. The commissioners voted 2-1 under pressure mainly from fishermen, to keep the reservoirs open without more stringent regulations. In light of the commissioner’s vote, the irrigation companies have taken matters into their own hands. They know their decisions will not be popular but that is outweighed by the threat posed by these foreign invaders. Boaters and fishermen need to understand the gravity of this situation. Irrigation companies that cannot deliver water to shareholders are about as much good as a chicken wire canoe.
We believe it’s time for the State of Idaho to step up its enforcement programs and spend the money it takes to keep these pests out. At the present time, Idaho is contracting with private companies to inspect boats at 20 different locations. And from the inspections we’ve been privy too, they’re doing a lousy job. A quick walk-around and checking bilges for water doesn’t cut it. In actuality, we are lucky to have kept quagga mussels out of Idaho this long, if in fact we have. Our state program is run with good intentions and within its budget, but it lacks an enforcement component. It’s not a carbon copy, but it’s basically the same as Utah and Nevada and the other 26 infected states. It’s time to quit relying on a quasi-honor system and get a program with some teeth. At present we are waiting for the inevitable.
One of the reasons why 28 states have failed to keep these pests out is, to do it right inconveniences people. Idaho’s boat inspection stations are only open during regular business hours – that needs to change. Any boat that crosses an Idaho border - especially if that boat has been in infected waters – should be stopped and carefully flushed and inspected. If the inspection station is closed the boat needs to wait and should not be allowed to proceed without being flushed. Video monitoring equipment may be needed to monitor border crossings.
One of the biggest problems with spreading quagga mussels around is they can live in a teaspoon of water for a long time. From bilges to live wells to cooling systems to ballast tanks, boats have literally hundreds of places to harbor these pests. They can even live on wet anchor lines. Another major problem is veligers can be present in a lake or reservoir for an unknown period of time before mature adult quagga mussels appear. That means we could be transporting them around without even knowing it.
The “Clean, Drain and Dry,” public relations campaign needs to be stepped up as well. There should be signs at every lake and reservoir that allows boats. Boat dealerships should also be called on to help educate boaters.
If these pests become established in Idaho we can expect declining fisheries, beaches littered with smelly, sharp shells, declining recreation opportunities across the board and increased costs relating to irrigation water delivery to farms. It’s impossible to predict the economic consequences it could have on Idaho’s economy but rest assured it will be dramatic. In addition, what legacy do we leave for future generations of Idaho residents if we allow these pests to become established on our watch? Idaho has been blessed with clean, unique and unspoiled waters. Let’s insist they stay that way.