Invasive species threaten our waterways and utilities

Washington's coastline, lakes, rivers, streams and estuaries are part of what make our state so beautiful and enjoyable for outdoor and boating recreation.

They are also why we had better take the threat of aquatic invasive species seriously.

In the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee this year, we had extensive presentations and work sessions on the problems other states and nations are having with specific invasive species. It became evident very quickly that the threat is real and it's on our doorstep.

The zebra and quagga mussels pose a significant risk to our economy, environment and to human health.

They can live up to 30 days out of water and each finger nail-sized mussel can produce one million offspring annually.

They float in the watershed and attach themselves to solid surfaces, both natural and manmade. They are transported into new waterways via boats, float planes, pump trucks, docks, buoys, monitoring equipment, live fish markets and aquaculture stocking.

These non-native hearty, prolific creatures are very difficult to kill and nearly impossible to control. They have no natural predators and are expanding their range at an alarming rate.

Once they enter a new ecosystem, they fill intake pipes, irrigation lines and dam operations. They can clog screens, water management systems and fish hatcheries.

They quickly move beyond the nuisance stage and give weighty meaning to the word “invasive.” The pictures shown to us in committee were truly startling as these critters multiply and spread at a rapid pace.

Conservative estimates suggest that if the zebra or quagga mussels were to invade Washington, it could cost hundreds of jobs and up to $100 million per year.

To help prevent this from happening, I introduced House Bill 1429 this legislative session. My proposal builds upon broad legislation led by Sen. Jim Honeyford in 2014.

My bill creates the Aquatic Species Management Account in the State Treasury. It then directs certain funds obtained from the derelict vessel and invasive species removal fee charged by the Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to be deposited into the account.

The bill also allows WDFW to issue $20 aquatic invasive species prevention permits for seaplanes or vessels registered in another state before they can enter our waterways.

We already have strict rules in place to help prevent the expansion or introduction of new aquatic invasive species. But we're learning more and more from other states that prevention is really the only option.

Prevention falls into several categories: inspections, monitoring, education and outreach, policy and legislation, and response. Each of these takes resources to accomplish at the level we need to ensure our state doesn't fall victim to the zebra or quagga mussel.

My bill passed the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee but did not make it out of the House Appropriations Committee.

While the idea of spending a few extra dollars on aquatic invasive species prevention efforts is not dead for the session, it is on life support.

I'm hoping to work more on this issue to protect our waterways, our unique ecosystems and our local and state economies.

This is truly a case where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

(Rep. Bruce Chandler, R-Granger, is the ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee and a long-time member of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee)

State Representative Bruce Chandler, 15th Legislative District
427B Legislative Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 339-5405 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000