Washington has been lucky so far that its neighbors have been vigilant in their attempts to protect our region’s waterways from an invasion of destructive creatures.
Quagga mussels and zebra mussels — which look harmless, but are anything but — have damaged the Great Lakes region and have spread west, wreaking havoc whenever they take hold of a body of fresh water.
A single mussel can latch onto a hard surface — like an irrigation pipe — and produce a million eggs, which hatch and then continue the cycle until they have created a crusty, thick coating that plugs irrigation and hydropower systems.
They also eat up the nutrients in the water, destroy the food chain in the ecosystem, and eventually starve the fish and plants that naturally live there.
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And, oh yeah, they are considered impossible to get rid of once they have moved in. So, prevention is critical.
Since they are not native to our area, the most likely way they would be introduced to our lakes and rivers is if they hitch a ride on a boat that has been somewhere these mussels live.
Or, they could hitch a ride in ballast water carried from an infested area and then dumped in our waterways. That is why checkpoints and washing stations are needed to ensure that boats are clean before traveling from one waterway to another.
So far, Montana, Oregon and Idaho and neighboring Canadian provinces have dedicated more money to these prevention efforts than Washington, and it is time for us to step up.
In 2015, the state Legislature called for a stakeholder group to come up with long-term funding options, and it now has recommendations ready.
The group estimates an infestation of zebra and quagga mussels could cost the state $100 million annually to control.
Considering that blocking their entrance is cheaper and more effective, the proposed prevention effort would increase the program size from $900,000 to $3.8 million a biennium over six years.
This would increase mandatory check stations from 50 to 250, and boost the number of watercraft inspections from 14,200 a year to 50,000 a year.
The advisory group’s report used 2014 budget figures for other states as a comparison. Oregon that year spent about $800,000 on aquatic invasive species prevention, Idaho $1.25 million, Montana $1.14 million and Washington $420,000.
We should do more, but finding the money is always a challenge.
Increasing fees on non-resident boats, seaplanes and other vessels would help, but the advisory group says the largest chunk should come from shifting $2.3 million in utility tax revenue from the general fund to the prevention program.
Although, that particular budget figure could change.
The U.S. House just approved some federal money to be specifically designated to the Northwest region for aquatic invasive species prevention. If the Senate also approves that language, this might reduce the amount needed at the state level.
However, officials with the state Fish and Wildlife department said the state would have to come up with matching money in order to qualify for the federal funds. So state lawmakers will still have to make sure they don’t shortchange the program.
The quagga and zebra mussels are not the only creatures the state needs to ward off, but they are a good example of how one small animal can ruin an ecosystem and damage a state’s economy.
We think the advisory committee has made a good case for upping the prevention budget.
Invasive species are like guests we don’t want visiting, because they will never leave and they will ruin our home.
Our state needs to do a better job helping our neighbors keep them out.