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Mussel fight worth the investment

Guest Opinion


Senator Jim Rice


Dist. 19 Rep. Mat Erpelding

Benjamin Franklin famously said that “a penny saved is a penny earned.”  This centuries-old wisdom is relevant today in Idaho where Democrats and Republicans are working together to fight the single most potentially devastating foreign invader of our state: Zebra and Quagga mussels.

That may not be the answer you were expecting, but it’s true. Zebra and Quagga mussels threaten Idaho’s waterways, electrical infrastructure and agricultural communities. If they make it into our rivers, lakes and streams they will devastate Idaho waters and cost over $90 million every year to deal with. While the Idaho legislature has taken some important first steps in combating this menace, more work is needed.

Zebra and Quagga mussels are not native to the United States. They were introduced to the Great Lakes region by cargo ships from the Black Sea. From there, this invader moved west into Arizona, Nevada, Utah and most recently Montana. These mussels can reproduce a million times over in a year. They are sharp and course and can attach themselves to infrastructure, wedge themselves into hydro-electric machinery and spread into irrigation pipes. They also ruin beaches in short order. To call them an existential threat to Idaho is an understatement.

We call the Zebra and Quagga mussels foreign invaders because the biggest threat to Idaho comes from boaters who (1) travel from out of state to Idaho or (2) travel to infested waters and then come back into Idaho. For example, Lakes Mead, Powell and Havasu are already infested. Boaters who travel to those waters pick up Quagga mussels in their bilge water (whether they know it or not), or the mussels attach directly to the boats. Once that happens, the boats transport the mussels to other states to infest new waters. For now, Idaho’s only line of defense is our 19 boat-check stations at our borders.  

During the past session, the House and Senate passed two bipartisan bills that become law July 1, 2017. The first bill raises the out-of-state boat tag fee from $22 to $30. The extra money will be used for prevention efforts. The second piece of legislation approved a $3 million increase in the Department of Agriculture budget, primarily to fund boat-check stations. These bills were the result of the work of a bi-partisan working group, but more needs to be done.

The federal government has jurisdiction over Lakes Mead, Powell and Havasu, three of the most infested waterways in the West. They need to take responsibility for the watercraft that navigate those waters. Any boats coming out of infested waters should be inspected by the feds before they leave. In addition, Idaho’s Department of Agriculture needs to work with state, federal and tribal agencies to make sure boats do not enter our state with viable Quagga mussels. Finally, the state of Idaho needs to appropriate enough resources to keep our state check stations open on a 24-hour basis. As it stands now, most Idaho inspection stations are open dawn to dusk. While our state officials do a great job, there are too many boaters who cross into the state after dark who risk exposing our state to the Quagga mussel.

We understand that Idaho is a conservative state, but preventing this species from destroying our waterways is worth the investment. It will be far cheaper to spend the money now on prevention than to deal with the consequences later. A few million dollars spent today could prevent a hundred million dollars per year in economic damage down the road. “A penny saved is a penny earned.” This is good advice. However, when it comes to keeping the Quagga mussel out of Idaho, pinching pennies is bad policy. We need to invest more to prevent this problem from infesting the waters in our state.

Rep. Mat Erpelding (D-Boise) is the Democratic Minority Leader in the Idaho House of Representatives. He is currently serving his third term from District 19. Erpelding holds degrees from Idaho State University as well as the University of Idaho. Sen. Jim Rice is in his fourth term representing District 10. He is the chairman of the Senate Agricultural Affairs Committee.


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