OR - Invasive mussels inching closer to the Columbia Basin, federal report says more could be done to stop them
Fast-spreading invasive aquatic mussels are hitching rides on boats, kayaks and jet skis. So, people are working to keep them out of the Columbia River Basin, the only major river basin in the U.S. without an established quagga mussel population.
"This is probably the most significant invasive species event in this generation," said Justin Bush, the aquatic invasive species policy coordinator with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
A new federal report finds the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could do more to help prevent the spread of quagga and zebra mussels.
They can wreak havoc on things like pipes and dams and can also damage ecosystems.
“If these species come (to the Columbia Basin), wow, it could really be devastating,” said Johnson, the director of the Federal Lands and Water resources oversight work for the Government Accountability Office, or GAO.
Johnson estimated the cost of infrastructure to the rest of the country dealing with these mussels is about $180 million per year in repairs.
Once these mussels, freshwater bivalves, attach to substrates and establish in water bodies, they can clog and ruin anything that relies on that water, like irrigation and municipal water pipes.
What Are They?
Quagga mussels are native to the Caspian, Black and Azov seas of Eastern Europe. This exotic species was first discovered in the U.S. in Lake Saint Clair, Michigan in 1988 and is believed to have been introduced in 1986 through ballast water discharged from ocean-going ships. Since their initial discovery, quagga mussels have spread rapidly throughout the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Basin states and other watersheds throughout the eastern and central U.S.
“This has an impact to, really, everybody in the basin that knows and loves and uses water resources,” said Nic Zurfluh, the invasive species bureau chief at the Idaho State Department of Agriculture.
Zurfluch spoke during Wednesday’s Northwest Power and Conservation Council meeting.
“Then, on the environmental side, being a filter feeder, removing plankton from the water column. That has a detrimental effect on food web processes and anything that lives in and interacts with the water,” he said.
This fall, routine monitoring detected quagga mussel larvae in the mid-Snake River near Twin Falls in southern Idaho.
With the mussels inching closer to the Columbia River Basin, Congress asked the GAO to look into whether state-run watercraft inspection and decontamination stations are keeping the mussels out before Congress doles out more funding for the program.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has a cost-sharing program with the states, which means states must put up the same amount of money they receive from the Corps.
The GAO found there wasn’t enough data to conclude whether the stations worked, mainly because there’s not much data sharing, Johnson said.
“To really stop the spread, there has to be good information sharing between the states and the federal government,” he said.
That’s complicated, he said, because some states raised privacy concerns. But, he said, information would only be used to track contaminated boats, kayaks and jet skis that the mussels hitched rides on.
It’s not that all the information has to be shared — just the important stuff, he said.