Franklin County irrigators limit boat access over mussels

An official inspects a boat at a check station as part of Idaho State Department of Agriculture's program to keep invasive mussels out of Idaho reservoirs and lakes. ISDA has added stations onsite at Franklin County reservoirs under a pilot program at the request of irrigators.

PRESTON, Idaho — Franklin County irrigation companies have implemented new boating restrictions at their reservoirs and are participating in an Idaho State Department of Agriculture pilot program creating new inspection stations for invasive quagga mussels.

The precautions are aimed at keeping the fresh-water mollusks, known to block irrigation pipelines and infrastructure, out of the state.

Utah officials announced last season they suspect Deer Creek Reservoir, located about 150 miles south of the Idaho border, may be infested with quagga mussels, which are also known to inhabit Lake Powell along Utah’s border with Arizona. The heightened risk prompted Consolidated Irrigation Co., Twin Lakes Canal Co. and St. Johns Irrigation Co. to start a working group with shareholders, members of the public and governmental officials to identify safeguards.

“If we get infested with quagga mussels, it would probably bankrupt our company,” Brian Jensen, Consolidated’s president said, adding irrigators would go without water for a year if the company were forced to drain its reservoirs to kill mussels.

Based on the companies’ concerns about out-of-state boaters bringing invasive mussels into Franklin County, ISDA added new inspection stations in Weston, Glendale Reservoir, Twin Lakes Reservoir and Treasureton Reservoir, in addition to existing stations in Malad and Franklin. Additional hot, pressure washing stations were also opened to clean boats of concern. The Franklin Soil & Water Conservation District contracts to staff the inspection and cleaning stations.

Lloyd Knight, ISDA’s division of plant industries administrator, said Idaho has monitored for mussels since 2009, investing $1.3 million to $1.5 million per year in monitoring, cleaning, education and staffing 15 to 20 mussel stations, mostly along major highways into Idaho. Knight said the program, authorized under the Idaho Invasive Species Act, is funded through motorboat registrations, and a special sticker for out-of-state and non-motorized boats.

Knight said Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Montana and Wyoming are the only states without invasive mussels.

In 2014, he said, ISDA stations inspected 48,000 boats, finding a dozen watercraft infested with mussels and four harboring live mussels. This season, ISDA has inspected 8,300 boats, finding seven watercraft fouled with dead mussels. He said 800 inspections were conducted in Franklin County through Memorial Day weekend, including 11 boats that had previously been in waters known to harbor mussels.

Knight said the effectiveness of the Franklin County pilot program will be evaluated at the end of the season to determine if new stations at the reservoirs were effective.

Twin Lakes President Clair Bosen said his company has restricted access to boats with more than 10-horsepower engines on some reservoirs and generally banned access to wake boats with ballast compartments, or bladders. Consolidated has also restricted wake boats on all reservoirs and will now allow only fishing boats on Johnson and Lamont reservoirs.

Bosen said the pilot program, coupled with one-time funds from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, should cover reservoir inspection station expenses through July. He said lakes will be closed entirely to boating after the funding expires, if no additional revenue is found.

The companies also backed a proposed Franklin County ordinance that would have required inspections of all watercraft entering county waterways, but failed to pass the county commission.

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