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NW Fishletter #369 May 1, 2017

[3] Combating Invasive Mussels Gets Boost From Corps

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is helping fund watercraft inspections to block the introduction of destructive quagga and zebra mussels into the Columbia River watershed.

The Corps and the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission (PSMFC) signed an agreement April 5 allowing the Commission to fund a four-state effort to prevent the non-native invasive mussels from spreading to the basin.

Regional leaders in the effort waited for several months for the Corps to approve the cost-share agreement. A March 9 announcement by the Walla Walla District said Corps' headquarters had given a green light to the federal cost-share.

Under the arrangement, the Corps and PSMFC--representing the states of Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington--will spend an estimated $7.4 million on the prevention effort.

The funding focuses on launching a score of new watercraft inspection stations and supporting existing stations, Corps spokesman for the Walla Walla District Bruce Henrickson told NW Fishletter in an email.

In recent years, the four states combined have spent about $3 million annually from other revenue sources.

The Corps funding comes just in time for the boating season, which starts in early March in the Northwest. The most likely source of contamination is watercraft returning from infected waters.

Aggressive prevention is urgently needed since Montana confirmed the presence of the invasive mussels last November in the Missouri River watershed, only a mountain ridge away from Columbia River Basin waters.

The new watercraft inspection stations include 14 in and around Montana's Tiber and Canyon Ferry reservoirs, where the invasive mussels were detected in November for the first time.

Montana's Flathead Lake in the Columbia River drainage. Credit: University of Montana

British Columbia announced in March that it had expanded funding by $3 million to keep invasive mussels out of the province's water bodies, including the Columbia River.

The total B.C. provincial funding for the prevention program is now $4.5 million annually with contributions coming from BC Hydro, Columbia Power, Fortis BC and Columbia Basin Trust.

Alberta, which borders B.C.'s eastern border, also maintains a mussel deterrence program.

Earlier this year, the Montana Mussel Response Team developed a two-year, $10.2-million strategy to combat the threat of invasive mussels. Although amended, the proposed funding has now passed the Montana Senate and House of Representatives.

As of 2015, when "Advancing a Regional Defense Against Dreissenids in the Pacific Northwest" was published, about $13 million was being spent annually in the region to prevent the establishment of these aquatic invasives. The region includes British Columbia and Alberta.

However, should the mussels become established in Northwest waters, the cost to the region would be about $500 million annually, according to both the study and the Corps.

Corps documents describe a direct threat to hydropower, navigation, and fish and wildlife mitigation from the non-native mussels, known as dreissenids, after their genus Dreissena. All submerged components of the basin's hydro facilities could be affected, including structural improvements such as fish screens and bypass systems, made over the past 25 years to pass salmon, steelhead and lamprey through dams.

In a related development, a study published in February concluded current efforts to detect invasive mussels in the Columbia Basin are not adequate. If the species were in the basin's waters, they wouldn't likely be detected at low densities, which is when measures to control their spread are most effective.

The study examined detection work in three Columbia River reservoirs--Bonneville, John Day, and Priest Rapids--and one Snake River reservoir, Ice Harbor.

Among other recommendations, the study suggested the development of alternative detection technologies, such as optical imaging and environmental DNA analysis, to speed up discovery time and detection effectiveness.

Scientists at the University of Montana are now using environmental DNA, or eDNA, to increase early detection capabilities to control the spread of invasive mussels in the state. eDNA examines DNA left behind by animals as they move through their environs to indirectly detect their presence. -Laura Berg

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NW Fishletter is produced by Energy NewsData.
Publisher/Editor-in-Chief: Mark Ohrenschall, Editor: Laura Berg
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