By RODNEY D. BOAM
What’s the big deal with mussels in our water? What can a few shelled animals do?
If or when Quagga or zebra mussels get into the waters of Franklin County it would be a real disaster for irrigators, as well as the local wildlife.
Lyle Porter, president of the Preston Consolidated Irrigation Company, said officials are very concerned about the mussels getting into their irrigation system.
“Quagga mussels reproduce really fast and they get all over. They clog pipes and sprinklers systems especially with water delivered under pressure,” Porter said. “They can also foul up headgates.
When they get started, they will really be a problem. The smaller reservoirs in Franklin County might not have the same problems as the larger ones because they can be drained and treated, but it can be very costly.
“When vectors get established, it can be expensive to kill them,” Porter said. “They are also a real concern to us because of the way they spread. If they get in we may have to close our reservoirs to the public. We know they are getting closer.”
Larry Pennington, president of the North Side Canal Company in Jerome, is known throughout the state as the Quagga mussel expert because of research he as done. Pennington took some sprinkler pipe to Lake Mead and sunk it for 15 months. The results were staggering. When he pulled it from the water it was covered with mussels.
“I’m scared spitless,” Pennington said. “If they got upriver on the Snake, like Palisades, it would be sad. They would render miles and miles of pipe and sprinklers useless.”
He said the mussels would infest the waters all the way to the Columbia River and beyond. If they got in Bear Lake, or any large body, it would affect the whole Bear River drainage.
Pennington also said Quaggas normally grow 1/32 of an inch in a month until they reach maturity. They are about the size of a thumbnail when they are full-grown. And they lay thousands of eggs at a time.
Pennington said mussels are filter feeders and suck all of the nutrients out of the water. Besides the problems they cause for agriculture, they also make it tough on fish. It would devastate the salmon and trout populations in Idaho.
It would conservatively cost a farmer about $10 an acre a year to treat their water to keep the pests from infesting the waterways and it would cost Idaho hundreds of millions of dollars to get control of them.
The creatures would also affect the hydro power plants along the rivers costing millions. The Center for Invasive Species Research at the University of California reported the cost of managing the Zebra Mussel in the Great Lakes exceeds $500 million a year. In the United States over $270 million is spent treating hydroelectric generation and water plants for mussels.
Matt Voile, section manager for the Idaho Department of Agriculture, said he knows the Idaho Water Users Association is concerned about mussels being discovered in Idaho.
“We do a lot of tests to check for mussels,” Voile said. “We have a little over 600 hundred samples we are checking and we have not found anything in the state yet.”
“One of the challenges of treating the mussels, if found in Idaho waters, Voile said, is the effect treatment would have on endangered species, game fish and other aquatic animals in the rivers.
Voile said the reason the mussels were put under the Department of Agriculture is because that’s where the legislature put it. He thought maybe it was because of the way they handle noxious weeds.
This story is sponsored by LaMonts Automotive and The Preston Citizen.
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