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County looking for more muscle in mussel fight

October 6, 2011

Local officials are asking Governor Jerry Brown to provide more aid in the fight against quagga mussels, an invasive species could pose a threat to wildlife, dams and pipes if it gets a foothold in the Eastern Sierra. Photo by Mike Gervais

Inyo County is looking to the state government to help stop the spread of invasive quagga mussels, which can cause millions of dollars worth of damage to water infrastructure.
Currently, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and Inyo County have quagga mussel checkpoints established at Diaz, Klondike and Crowley lakes to ensure boats and other vessels that enter the water are not infested with the hearty pests. However, state and private entities such as the Department of Fish and Game and Southern California Edison are doing little more than warning residents that quagga mussels are a threat.
Should one local body of water become infested with quaggas, experts with the LADWP say it is likely that they will spread to every body of water downstream in a matter of years.
The quagga mussel is known to be resilient, and can live for days or weeks outside of the water. When submerged, they reproduce at a rapid rate. In just a matter of years, the LADWP said, shorelines of infested waters are littered with razor sharp shells from dead mussels. The bivalves are also prone to latching on to pipes and pumps that transport water to city water systems, and have been known to clog the works beyond repair.
The LADWP said the invasive species also poses a threat to other wildlife. Due to their rapid rate of reproduction, the mussels overpopulate quickly, consuming algae and other natural elements in the water that are necessary to sustain fish and other natural inhabitants.
In a letter to Governor Jerry Brown that the board approved Tuesday, the county claims that “without coordinated, collaborative and extensive action being taken to stop any further infestation, the state’s water system will be severely impacted as the mussels cause irreparable ecological and economic damage, with the long-term costs being in the billions of dollars.”
Currently, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is facing the challenge of cleaning quaggas from its pipelines that feed water to the Los Angeles area.
“It is imperative that the State of California take action to stop further contamination of the state’s precious water resources through the means available to us, i.e., legislation, the development of a statewide plan, funding and enforcement, to provide local jurisdictions the ability to protect their water bodies, thus helping to prevent and control widespread statewide infestations,” the letter continues.
Last month Governor Brown extended a quagga program that provides funding for inspections of boats and other vessels heading for state waters.
Sponsored by the Association of California Water Agencies, SB 215, authored by Sen. Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar), extends the sunset of the successful mussel inspection program led by the DFG and the Department of Food and Agriculture.
Previously set to expire at the end of this year, the mussel inspection program was first created in 2007 to allow the state to conduct inspections of vehicles and water bodies and order quarantines of any infested water bodies. The law also authorizes the state to implement measures to prevent and eradicate infestations, including education.
According to the ACWA, S.B. 215 is “an ongoing prevention and education program to help keep these unwanted guests away, including a marketing campaign to get recreational boaters and others to pay attention to the hidden cargo that they may be carrying.”
The cost to run the program and inspections is estimated at close to $10 million total for both departments combined through the end of 2014.
“We are pleased that Governor Brown and the Legislature recognized the importance of continuing this aggressive program to combat the spread of invasive quagga mussels,” said ACWA Executive Director Timothy Quinn in a statement. “SB 215 will ensure that the current and effective efforts continue uninterrupted.”

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