BOISE – Starting in about a month, anyone pulling a boat into Idaho will have to pull over at a port of entry for inspection and possible decontamination in an effort to keep invasive quagga and zebra mussels out of the state.
Top state officials approved emergency measures Tuesday for nearly a dozen such inspection stations around the state. One will be located at Huetter on Interstate 90 between Spokane and Coeur d’Alene.
The $1.8 million in emergency measures includes a statewide billboard campaign, education and outreach, signs on highways and boat ramps, and monitoring and enforcement.
But most of the money will be spent on inspection and decontamination, to stop the fast-spreading, thumbnail-size shellfish from turning Idaho’s lakes, reservoirs and beaches into shell-encrusted wastelands. That’s been the fate of numerous sites around the Great Lakes in Michigan, and the mussels in the past year have been spotted as far west as Utah and Nevada.
“We’re trying to get some of this put together as soon as we can, before we get too far into the boating season,” Lloyd Knight, administrator of the plant industries division at Idaho’s Department of Agriculture, told the state Board of Examiners on Tuesday.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, chairman of the Board of Examiners, said the emergency measures are warranted. “The estimate right now is about 92 million bucks if we do nothing and just allow this very aggressive species to come in,” he said.
That’s the estimated cost – annually – to cope with a widespread infestation of the mussels in Idaho. The shellfish can clog irrigation pipes, hydropower plants, water system intakes and more.
“We don’t have a reservoir in the state of Idaho that isn’t somebody’s city water system,” Otter said.
Much of the cost of the programs will be funded by a new invasive species sticker that owners of all boats launched in Idaho must buy. The stickers cost $10 for boats registered in Idaho, $20 for those registered elsewhere, and $5 for nonmotorized boats, including canoes and kayaks, which are exempt from the usual boat registration. Only inflatables shorter than 10 feet are exempt from the sticker requirement.
The penalty for boating in Idaho without the sticker is a $57 fine.
Knight said regulations to match a new state law went into effect May 1, requiring the stickers and allowing the Agriculture Department to “put hold orders on watercraft they suspect is carrying invasive species.”
He said the new check stations will target “routes with a high amount of boat traffic from other states.” However, all watercraft would be required to pull in. Locals wouldn’t be kept long, he said.
Knight said he’ll request proposals from contractors to operate the inspection and decontamination stations, which will clean boats with 140-degree water to kill any invasive quagga or zebra mussels.
The tiny invaders can travel on boats in a microscopic form, if the boat was last in a contaminated body of water. The closest identified one to Idaho, at this point, is a reservoir in Utah.
Knight said of the 10 or more inspection stations statewide, four will be in North Idaho. In addition to the Huetter port of entry on I-90, they’ll include some that may “rove” to test boats traveling into Idaho on I-90 from Montana and possibly on the U.S. Highway 95 corridor. Another will target the Priest Lake and Priest River area.