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Idaho legislature supports money, rules to contain quagga mussels

ISDA staff decontaminate a boat that's been in the Snake River searching for mussels.
Rachel Cohen
Boise State Public Radio
ISDA staff decontaminate a boat that's been in the Snake River searching for mussels.

The Idaho Legislature passed two bills last week that aim to contain the spread of invasive quagga mussels.

The larval form of the mussels were detected in the Snake River near Twin Falls last year. The Idaho State Department of Agriculture responded with a $3 million protocol, which involved releasing tens of thousands of gallons of a copper-based chemical into the river.

The state won't know until this spring if the treatment worked to kill all the mussels. A fully-fledged infestation could cost hundreds of millions of dollars to protect infrastructure from the creatures that quickly affix onto hard surfaces in the water, including irrigation and hydropower equipment.

One of the bills lawmakers passed contained Gov. Brad Little's $6.6 budget request to support the Idaho State Department of Agriculture's mussel prevention and monitoring work.

The department plans on using the funds to expand the season and hours of the stations that inspect and decontaminate boats, often found carrying mussels between states. It would also set up three new stations.

Little thanked lawmakers for passing the budget bill, saying the invasive mussels pose a “potential threat of widespread and severe damage to Idaho’s economy, property and way of life.”

A separate bill also gives the Department of Agriculture more control in monitoring boats for quagga mussels. It requires immediately removing vegetation and water from boats upon exiting bodies of water.

“We want to inspect, we want to understand, we want to make sure that we're not responsible for moving that stuff through," said Sen. Van Burtensaw (R-Terreton), a bill sponsor, when introducing the legislation last month.

He said it also expands the aquatic vessels the rule applies to — not only motor boats and paddle boards, but also fishing float tubes and inflatable kayaks.

“Whatever it is that goes into the water that can hold any type of water in it," he said.

In addition, the bill makes available up to 20% of the state Invasive Species Fund money for counties to supply their own quagga mussel defenses.

A handful of Republicans voted against both bills. Some took issue with the quagga mussel budget supporting two more full-time Department of Agriculture staff.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on X @racheld_cohen

Copyright 2024 Boise State Public Radio

I cover environmental issues, outdoor recreation and local news for Boise State Public Radio. Beyond reporting, I contribute to the station’s digital strategy efforts and enjoy thinking about how our work can best reach and serve our audience. The best part of my job is that I get to learn something new almost every day.

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