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Western Governors Call For Aggressive Action Against Invasive Mussels

Invasive mussels can cause costly damage to irrigation and hydropower systems.
Invasive mussels can cause costly damage to irrigation and hydropower systems.

Western governors want to see more federal action to combat tiny but destructive creatures: invasive mussels.

A quagga mussel is only about the size of your thumbnail. But when the little mollusk reproduces en masse, it can wreak havoc on agriculture and lake tourism.

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"Clogging infrastructure, hydropower systems, municipal water systems, irrigation system," said Nic Zurfluh, who manages the invasive species program within the Idaho Department of Agriculture. 

They also alter the makeup of a freshwater body by gobbling up excessive amounts of phytoplankton. As a result, Zurfluh says contaminated lakes have fewer and smaller native fish and other species. 

Quagga and zebra mussels are already a big problem in several Western states including Utah and Montana. The mussels are impossible to get rid of once they contaminate a waterway, so Idaho is working hard to make sure they don’t sneak into the Snake River Basin.

The mussels travel from one lake to the next by hitching a ride on boats. Several states have border checkpoint programs in place to prevent the spread of the invasive species, but  Western governors are urging for more action and coordination between federal agencies.

In 2017, Idaho and Utah  teamed up to coordinate inspection and contamination prevention efforts between the two states.

Find reporter Amanda Peacher on Twitter  @amandapeacher . Copyright 2018 Boise State Public Radio

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, Yellowstone Public Radio in Montana, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

Copyright 2020 Boise State Public Radio News. To see more, visit Boise State Public Radio News.

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