Weighing Costs and Risk of Quagga and Zebra Mussels in the Columbia

Photo courtesy of Michigan Sea Grant College Program.

Zebra and Quagga Mussels will cost PNW energy ratepayers a lot of money concludes a draft study by Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s Independent Economic Advisory Board. It will also cost other users of the river and its tributaries including agricultural irrigators, municipal water suppliers, marina owners, and fish hatcheries.  Though the study isn’t due out until June, this is a big step towards quantifying the threat of aquatic invasive organisms like Quagga and Zebra (Dreissenid) mussels, so reports the Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Bulletin.

“During its January meeting the Nation Power and Conservation Council [NPCC] tasked the IEAB with analyzing potential economic effects of a quagga or zebra mussel infestation of the Columbia River basin with a focus on the Federal Columbia River Power System and the NPCC’s fish and wildlife program.

The IEAB’s final report, which is due in June, should help the Council and other policy makers in the region better understand the potential damage and related costs of a mussel infestation as compared to the potential cost of preventative actions. Mann was in Boise to give the Council a progress report on the project.”

The Bulletin goes on to list some of the areas that could be impacted by a mussel infestation:

“The IEAB is gathering information on possible impacts to infrastructure within the Council’s sphere of influence, including any submerged components and conduits of the FCRPS, including juvenile and adult fish passage and monitoring facilities, navigation locks, hydropower facilities, raw water distribution systems for hatcheries, turbine cooling, and water supply; trash racks, diffuser gratings, and drains.

Non-FCRPS [Federal Columbia River Power System] irrigation, municipal water supply and other infrastructure could also be affected, and a mussel invasion also has the potential to collapse the existing food chain.

There are no known zebra or quagga infestations in the Pacific Northwest but they seem to be moving closer and closer. The invasive mussels were found in January 2007 in Lake Mead in the Southwest and since then quagga or zebra mussels have been found in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, Texas and Utah.”

In the Columbia system, however, there are still plenty of questions about whether the organisms can survive in our low calcium waters or under different types of stream conditions.  The results of a study in the Frontiers of Ecology and the Environment published on-line in by OSU’s Thom Whittier and others shows that these European mussels don’t thrive unless waters are still and calcium levels are high.  Many of the streams and lakes of Western Oregon and Washington are therefore, probably low risk in terms of infestation. But uncertainties remain, as they did in the Colorado River system before the mussels arrived there and proliferated, despite some of the indications otherwise.

Image courtesy of Thom Whittier, OSU Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.

What have these organisms cost other, comparable areas?  In the Great Lakes area–the location with the longest history of infestation, mussels have cost the power industry about $3.1 billion between 1993 and 1999 according to Congressional researchers. Overall community impacts totaled at least $5 billion according to the Quagga-Zebra Mussel Action Plan for Western U.S. Waters.

The point of this is that for quagga and zebra mussels, as well any other aquatic invader, risk–biological, physical and economic–needs to be determined to better prepare for invasions.

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.  If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.  If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle. — Sun Tzu, “The Art of War”

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