OPINION: Eradicating the Quagga Mussels

Monday November 13, 2023

Water is invaluable. This finite resource is the lifeblood that supplies nearly everything we need in life. It irrigates our fields and generates our power, creating a lush and fruitful landscape where arid desert previously stood.

However, there is one thing we need to remember about this precious commodity: In order to be useful, water must be clean.

The state of Idaho understands the significance of maintaining and preserving our freshwater systems. I have been a part of this effort since I decided to run for elected office more than two decades ago because water, and its management, matters. Today, it matters more than ever.

If you were out enjoying one of our rivers or lakes in the past month, you’ve probably seen the signs: “Clean, Drain, and Dry.” While this is good advice for all water recreators at any time, it is of the utmost importance right now because an invasive species has been detected in Idaho – and we need your help to keep it under control.

In mid-September, the Idaho State Department of Agriculture (ISDA) announced the finding of quagga mussel veliger, or larvae, in the Snake River just outside of Twin Falls. Quagga mussels are found in freshwater and can easily move to new locations by attaching to watercraft that travel to and from different waterways. But the real issue is how quickly and aggressively these mussels can spread if left unchecked.

Quagga mussels are a serious threat. A single mussel can produce between 30,000 and 1,000,000 veligers a year – or roughly 82 to 2,740 every single day. These small mussels can quickly multiply, piling on top of others, until they take over the waterway. They can clog entire pipes that deliver drinking water to our households and irrigation to our fields, and they can completely shut down the turbines that power our hydroelectric systems. Quagga mussels have the potential to affect the entire Columbia River Basin, eliminate Idaho’s diverse ecological landscapes, and cause hundreds of millions of dollars in direct and indirect costs to the state and taxpayer.

Luckily, ISDA, Governor Brad Little’s Office, and other state agencies detected the mussels early and within days, initiated a two-phase rapid response treatment plan.

On October 3, the first batch of natrix was added to a six-mile stretch of the Snake River near the Centennial Park, Pillar Falls, and Shoshone Falls areas and the Twin Falls deep pool area. Natrix is a copper-based product that is EPA-approved for aquatic applications. It was administered at a rate that eradicates the mussels but is well below the standard set for safe human usage or consumption. ISDA incrementally added the treatment to different areas of the river every 96 hours for two weeks with the goal of eradicating every mussel at every stage of life.

Thanks to the tireless efforts of the ISDA, the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, Idaho Fish and Game, and a myriad of partnering organizations, the treatment for the quagga mussel in the Snake River has been successfully completed.

While this is good news, it does not mean the threat from this aggressive species is gone.

Quagga mussel veligers are microscopic, free-swimming larvae. They can latch onto your boat, jet ski, or kayak, and you would never know until it’s too late. This is why the state of Idaho needs your help to keep this invasive species out of our waterways.

Next time you are out enjoying our waters, remember to use these three simple and effective strategies before you leave:

  1. CLEAN all watercraft or equipment used before you leave any body of water. This includes watercrafts, anchors, trailers, waders, shoes, life jackets, and scuba equipment.
  2. DRAIN the water from all equipment, including motors, live wells, sea strainers, wakeboard ballast tanks, boat hulls, bait buckets, waders, and boots.
  3. DRY all equipment and compartments before using it in a different body of water.

Also, be sure to adhere to any watercraft inspections. These could help stop the spread of a number of invasive species before it even begins.

We must remain vigilant. While the rapid response and treatment of the Snake River shows signs of being successful, the threat is not over. Every single person, animal, and plant in the state of Idaho depends on clean water – but it is up to all of us to help keep our shared water clear of invasive species.

So, for the betterment of Idaho, its vast waters, and our way of life, please remember to Clean, Drain, and Dry.