An armada of 41 flexible barges infested with quagga mussels during construction work in Lake Mead were stopped by Idaho’s boat inspection program.
The barges were heading back to Seattle after work on the new Las Vegas water intake tunnel was completed in Lake Mead. Mead has been infested with the quagga mussels that were carried by boat from the Great Lakes.
The mussels reproduce quickly and clog canals, hydroelectric dams, and other structures in the state’s lakes and streams and vast network of waterways. They also take over the ecosystems reducing the number of game fish. State officials predicted an infestation here could cost $91 million.
A week ago one of the barges showed up at an Idaho inspection station at the port of entry on U.S. Interstate 84 south of Burley. Idaho Department of Agriculture inspectors stopped the barge and found mussels. They contacted Washington and Nevada officials when they learned that 41 similar barges were heading toward Seattle.
All of the states jumped into action to find, inspect and decontaminate the barges, said Amy Ferriter ISDA invasive species coordinator. Inspectors stopped two barges today, Wednesday on U.S. 93 north of Jackpot that had been reinspected and decontaminated by Nevada.
“Our inspectors said they were spotless,” Ferriter said
This is the fourth season Idaho has had the inspection program funded by a boat stamp that was championed by Republican Rep. Eric Anderson of Priest Lake in 2009. Without this program these barges would have gone unnoticed and may have carried the mussels to a new home in the Pacific Northwest.
“Other states are very envious of what we’ve been able to do,” Ferriter said.
State officials also contacted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the federal agency charged with keeping invasive species out of rivers lakes and other ecosystems. Unlike the states they did not act as if it was an emergency but Ferriter did not want comment on their role.
“They did not report to the port of entry,” she said.
Part of the problem is the federal agency only can respond to “sufficient evidence of viable mussels crossing state lines.” But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has no official definition of viable or viability threshold.
“We've in fact identified regionally the need to develop common guidelines (and associated measurement methods) for mussel viability,” said Paul Heimowitz Regional Science & Aquatic Invasive Species Coordinator in an e-mail obtained by the Idaho Statesman.