RAVALLI — The summer of 2020 — a summer unlike any other for numerous reasons — came to an end this week. If the quagga and zebra mussels would make inroads in the Columbia River Basin it would — sadly — be poetic happenstance that that would happen this summer. However, heretofore, Montana and the Flathead and Kootenai rivers basins, the headwater basins of the Columbia River Basin, have dodged the mussels-bullet for another summer.
The Columbia River Basin is the only river basin in America that hasn’t been infested with mussels but there have been close calls. In November 2016, state officials announced the first documented presence of zebra and quagga mussels in Montana, after positive tests at sites in the Missouri River system in Tiber Reservoir, and “suspect” detections in Canyon Ferry Reservoir.
Tiber was put under a five-year monitoring study and Canyon Ferry under a three-year monitoring. At the end of 2019 Canyon Ferry was determined to be suspect mussel free, and restrictions were lifted. Tiber will be monitored two more years 2020 and 2021; if mussels aren’t detected the restrictions will be lifted.
An mussel infestation in Montana waterways would wreak havoc on them and the state economy. In a 2019 report prepared by the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation in cahoots with the Montana Invasive Species Council (MISC), the Flathead Lake Bio Station and the National Invasive Species Council, a quagga and zebra mussel worst case scenario invasion would cost Montana an estimated $234 million per year in damages to the state economy. The $234 million cost is the worst-case scenario significantly negatively dings the recreation, agriculture, infrastructure and government sectors revenue.
Zebra/quagga mussels also negatively impact aquatic ecosystems, harming native organisms (including already imperiled indigenous mussels). In huge numbers, they out-compete other filter feeders, starving them. They adhere to all hard surfaces, including the shells of native mussels, turtles, and crustaceans. Zebra/quagga mussels actively feed on green-algae and may increase the proportion of foul-smelling blue-green algae in water systems.
More than 120,000 water craft were inspected this summer, and a record high of 27 were fouled. Seventeen of the fouled boats came from the Midwest, and seven were from Arizona.
The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Ravalli inspection station has seen more and earlier water craft traffic this summer. JaBleau Arlee, inspector station manager, said there has been more and earlier out of state boater traffic this summer and attributes it to the coronavirus. The more than 120,000 inspections are an indicator of the increased boater traffic and is a new record.
However, the boating season isn’t over on Flathead Lake where the 2020 Fall Mack Days fishing event is presently ongoing until November 15. Thankfully most, if not all, of the competitors are local area boaters whose watercraft have been inspected time and again throughout the summer.
As of Monday, Sept. 21, the Montana AIS inspection stations have conducted more than 120,000 inspections that found 9,809 high-risk watercraft and 27 mussel fouled watercraft.
The high-risk watercraft emanate from areas known to contain zebra and/or quagga mussels or are watercraft with bilges.
Top inspection numbers of sites conducted near Flathead Lake
• Clearwater Junction has conducted 30,321 inspections that included 471 high risk water-craft
• Ravalli has conducted 15,518 inspections that included 940 high risk water-craft
• Anaconda has conducted 10,163 inspections that included 1,583 high risk water-craft
• Troy has conducted 6,403 inspections that included 100 high risk water-craft
• St. Regis has conducted 5,692 inspections that included 226 high risk water-craft
• Thompson Falls has conducted 3,980 inspections that included 55 high risk water-craft
• Browning has conducted 2,878 inspections that included 207 high risk water-craft
• Sula has conducted 1,620 inspections that included 207 high risk water-craft
• Kalispell has conducted 683 inspections that included 62 high risk water-craft
Inspections by state
Idaho tops the top 10 of out-of-state inspections with 2,100, followed by Washington with 1,000 Wyoming 756, Utah 613, Colorado 569, California 550, Oregon 521, Minnesota 511, North Dakota 463, and Arizona 419.
The remaining inspections were conducted of on Montana water-craft.