States seek federal help fighting mussel scourge

The Northwest Power and Conservation Council guides power and environmental policy in Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington, all of which are frustrated because boats continue to leave Lake Mead in Nevada and Arizona contaminated with quagga mussels.

It's seeking $2 million in federal aid to add watercraft inspection and decontamination stations to intercept boats carrying these rapidly multiplying, thumb-sized mollusks that could wreak havoc on Columbia River hydroelectric dams, farmers' irrigation systems and lakes prized for recreation.

In 2012, a $1 million appropriation pushed by U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, was directed to support "mandatory operational inspection and decontamination stations" at sites including Lake Mead.

But only about half the money has gone toward inspection and decontamination work, according to the council, prompting Rockefeller to complain that federal agencies including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service aren't sufficiently invested in fighting the scourge.

Researchers don't know exactly how the mussels arrived at Lake Mead, where their numbers have increased tenfold to 1.5 trillion since their 2007 discovery. Given the mussels' rapid proliferation on the Colorado River, Idaho state Rep. Eric Anderson said stopping contaminated boats before they go elsewhere is the best way to combat the mussels' spread.

Earlier this year, Anderson left 500 Idaho license plates underwater at a Lake Mead marina. After they've been encrusted with the mussels, he'll distribute them to Idaho outlets that sell boat tags. Revenue from these tags funds Idaho's $850,000 annual effort to keep mussels out of Idaho, including border inspections that began in 2009.

She also complains National Park Service officials have largely balked at requests to ask departing boaters for their destinations, then share the information across state lines, to better monitor such traffic.