Western governors want federal help in invasive zebra mussel fight
BOISE, Idaho — Governors of 19 Western states are pressing the federal government to do more to prevent the spread of damage-causing invasive mussels from infected federally managed waterways.
The Western Governors’ Association on Thursday sent a letter urging Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to put in place by spring 2018 controls to prevent the spread of zebra and quagga mussels.
The governors are also asking that federal agencies conduct mandatory inspections and decontamination of boats leaving infected water bodies. The mussels can attach to boats and trailers and travel long distances, clogging water pipes, damaging boat motors and affecting other aquatic life.
“Given the significant risks that quagga and zebra mussels pose to uninfested waterbodies, it is critical to implement effective control policies in a timely manner,” the letter states.
The governors say they’re particularly concerned about the mussels reaching the Columbia River Basin, Lake Tahoe, and the Colorado River Basin above Lake Powell.
The Interior Department has said that hydroelectric projects infested with the mussels might require an additional $500,000 in annual maintenance. The Pacific Northwest gets much of its power from hydro projects, so an infestation could increase the cost of electricity.
Many states have spent millions and continue to do so to keep the mussels out. Some have set up mandatory checkpoints near borders to intercept boats for inspections, including Idaho, which is spending more than $3 million annually.
“Idaho and our neighbors in the West are acting individually and collaboratively to address the challenge of these invasive species,” Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter said in a statement to The Associated Press on Friday. “Now our federal partners must step up to help us stop further infestations.”
Heather Swift, Interior Department spokeswoman, said in an email to The Associated Press on Friday that Zinke hadn’t seen the letter and couldn’t comment specifically.
“Stopping the spread of invasive species is a big concern of the Department and the Secretary,” she said, noting a June 26 news release outlining some of the agency’s collaborative efforts with states and tribal agencies.
The governors’ letter on Thursday is the second they’ve sent this year about invasive mussels to Zinke. A letter sent June 22 also pressed for watercraft inspection and decontamination.
The Interior Department responded Sept. 15 with a two-page letter agreeing with the severity of the problem. The most recent letter by the governors’ included “clarifying questions.”
Specifically, the governors want to know what timeline has been set for the National Park Service to complete an assessment of mussel containment and monitoring programs at Lake Mead National Recreation Area in southeastern Nevada and northwestern Arizona, and the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in southern Utah and northern Arizona.
The governors are also interested in knowing if similar timelines are being set for other Interior Department agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Reclamation.
The governors also asked if federal agencies have the authority to require mandatory boat checks and, if not, what authority would be needed.
“Western states need adequate measures to ensure these invaders do not spread to uninfested waters,” the governors said.