US$20 million authorized to protect Columbia River Basin from invasive species

Quagga and zebra mussels

According to the Seattle, Washington-based Pacific NorthWest Economic Region (PNWER) Foundation, an invasion of quagga or zebra mussels in the Pacific Northwest would rapidly foul and damage the operations of hydropower plants and other freshwater-related facilities vital to the region’s economy.

Financial help will aid in fighting the potential threat after the U.S. Senate, on Sept. 15, passed the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) authorizing US$9 billion in spending on 25 water development projects across the nation.

Within the bill is authorization for up to $20 million to match state spending on watercraft inspection stations, which protect the Columbia River Basin from aquatic invasive species.

Zebra and Quagga mussels belong to the family Dreissenidae -- small freshwater mussels and aquatic bivalve mollusks. Dreissena's ability to rapidly colonize hard surfaces causes serious economic problems because they are major biofouling organisms that clog water intake structures (i.e., pipes and screens), which in the case of hydroelectric facilities reduces pumping capabilities.

VIDEO: Bureau of Reclamation’s fight against zebra and quagga mussels

By allowing federal funds to be utilized at stations located outside the Columbia River Basin compared to the 2014 version, this year's bill authorizes double the amount of federal funds available for inspection stations in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.

Already a common issue for hydroelectric project operators in many parts of the U.S., the Pacific Northwest is the largest region of the U.S. and Canada that does not have established populations of Dreissenids. In 2015, B.C. launched a $1 million inspection program in anticipation of the boating season.

Last year, BC Hydro Deputy Chief Operating Officer, Chris O'Riley, said, “Invasive mussels can impact the efficiency of our hydroelectric generating facilities by attaching themselves to the surfaces on our dams.”

He said both species are a big threat, especially to BC Hydro facilities on the Columbia River, where about 50% of the electricity used by British Columbians is generated each year.

Studies conducted from 1993 to 1999 by U.S. Congressional researchers estimate an infestation of the zebra mussel in the Great Lakes area cost the power industry $3.1 billion, with an economic impact to industries, businesses and communities of more than $5 billion.

PNWER produced a framework in 2015 to help coordinate a regional defense against these mussels and estimate if the biologicals invaded the Pacific Northwest and Western Canada, the cost to combat them could annually be $500 million.

PNWER is a statutory public-private nonprofit created in 1991 by the U.S. and Canada. U.S. member states in the organization include: Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Montana and Washington. Canadian provinces that co-founded PNWER are: British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Yukon and the Northwest Territories.

The WRDA has significant dam safety measures for the entire country

Summary of the entire WRDA:

This bill authorizes, deauthorizes, and revises various U.S. Army Corps of Engineers water resources development and conservation projects, feasibility studies and relationships with nonfederal project sponsors. The Corps may carry out final feasibility studies for projects in Arkansas, California, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency must establish a grant program to rehabilitate nonfederal dams posing an unacceptable risk to the public.

Additional assistance is provided to states with emergency public health threats associated with lead or other contaminants in a public drinking water supply system. The Department of Justice and the inspector general of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must report on any ongoing investigations into the government's response to the drinking water contamination in Flint, Mich.

The Safe Drinking Water Act and the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (commonly known as the Clean Water Act) are amended to set forth funding priorities and make additional subsidization available to projects that use state revolving loan funds for innovative water technologies. The EPA must establish grant programs for: Community water systems serving disadvantaged communities; reduction of lead in water for human consumption; voluntary school and child care lead testing; and innovations that address water challenges.

Public water systems must notify their customers of lead levels in drinking water that exceed limits under national primary drinking water regulations.

The bill revises and reauthorizes through FY2021:

Water Desalination Act of 1996, with a list of funding priorities;

  • The Department of the Interior program for making grants to state water resources research and technology institutes;
  • EPA grants to states for sewer overflow control grants to municipalities, which may be used for stormwater or subsurface drainage water projects;
  • The EPA Great Lakes Restoration Initiative; and
  • The Long Island Sound Restoration program.

The U.S. Forest Service's administration of the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act is revised and reauthorized for 10 fiscal years after enactment of this bill.

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