Invasive species may lead to new fee for boaters
Published: Wednesday, February 25, 2015
SALT LAKE CITY ― As Utah water sources become contaminated with the Quagga mussel, some legislators say they think that boaters should pay a fee to help fight the mussel invasion.
Quagga mussels appear to have come to Utah when boats from the highly infected Great Lakes region subsequently visited Lake Powell. Recently, the mussel has been spotted at Deer Creek Reservoir in the form of "villagers," or small colonies that have yet to become "established."
"If those things happen to establish themselves in Deer Creek Reservoir it'll be a nightmare," said Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City. He explained that the reservoir could then influence the water quality of the Provo River, which could impact the whole central Utah water system.
"We've got some extremely pristine waters in this state. When you look at Bear Lake or Strawberry ― the fishery at Strawberry, that's one of the greatest fisheries in the United States ― and the idea that this could get established in those lakes scares you half to death. You don't hardly know what to think about it," Jenkins said. Jenkins went on to suggest that the mussels could spread into the water system piping, destroying everything.
According to Quagga Task Force Chair Gene Shawcroft, if the mussels in Deer Creek become "established" the water supply to over 60 percent of Utahns could be affected. This includes Jordanelle, Strawberry, and Starvation reservoirs.
"From a water user standpoint, the water quality changes when these quagga mussels eat the good algae out of the water and leave the bad algae. That algae, the blue-green algae, makes treatment much more difficult and can be much more expensive," Shawcroft said. "It is catastrophic. We will be able to deliver the water. It will just simply cost more and it will be much more cumbersome. It will be safe. We can make it safe. The technology is there through the treatment plants to make it safe."
Although the mussels have the ability to contaminate a whole water system through waterways, they can travel via boat as well. Even with thorough cleaning, a boat's ballasts, which allow it to take on and release water, could transport the Quagga mussel if it is not properly drained.
The Quagga mussel is not just a health scare. Lake Michigan spends $500 million a year coping with the mussel. Subsequently, Utah legislators want to institute a $10 fee for boaters to create a fund for keeping Utah waters clean and mussel-free. With 70,000 registered boaters, this fee could help the Quagga Task Force finance the effort to head off the spread of the Quagga mussel.
"If we get this infested throughout our state we'd probably be at about $50 million a year, we estimate, to manage that here in the state. Pretty nervous about that right now," said Greg Sheehan, Director of Utah Animal and Wildlife Resources.
The House Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee voted unanimously to favorably recommend SB89 for consideration by the entire Utah House of Representatives.