Press Releases

Senator Feinstein Calls for Robust Federal Response to Address Mussel Infestation Problems in Western Waterways

- Invasive species has spread to Lake Mead and Lower Colorado River Basin -

Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today urged the U.S. Department of the Interior to launch a robust federal response to address the growing problem of quagga mussel infestation in Western waterways. This invasive species has now spread to Lake Mead and can be found throughout much of the Lower Colorado River Basin.

In letters to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Senator Feinstein called for the Interior Department to work with State and local officials to help stop the spread of the mussels to additional state and local water infrastructure.

The quagga mussel is a Ukrainian mollusk and invasive species that was likely introduced into U.S. waterways two decades ago from the ballast water of large foreign container ships.  Though quagga mussels are slightly smaller than a thumbnail, their ability to rapidly reproduce makes them a serious threat to water infrastructure, water quality, marine life, and the boating and fishing industries. 

Following is the letter sent by Senator Feinstein to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne. A similar letter was also sent to California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger:

July 22, 2008

The Honorable Dirk Kempthorne
Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20240

Dear Secretary Kempthorne,

I am writing to bring to your attention the growing quagga mussel infestation in California and other Lower Colorado River states and to urge you to mount an aggressive federal response in coordination with state and local officials.

As you may know, the quagga mussel is a Ukrainian mollusk and invasive species that was likely introduced into U.S. waterways two decades ago from the ballast water of large foreign container ships.  Quagga mussels were discovered in Lake Mead in January 2007, though they likely arrived three to four years before being detected.  Over the past year and a half, the number of quagga in Lake Mead has grown dramatically.  The infestation has also spread throughout the Lower Colorado River system, with detections now recorded in 19 southern California lakes and waterways as well as numerous sites in Arizona and Nevada.  Though quagga mussels are slightly smaller than a thumbnail, their exponential reproduction rate and voracious appetite make them a serious threat to water infrastructure, water quality, marine life, and the boating and fishing industries.
Over the last twenty years quagga mussels and their cousin, the zebra mussel, have caused billions of dollars in damages in the Great Lakes and other water bodies south and east of the Mississippi River.  Now water officials in California and neighboring states believe the quagga could have a similar or worse impact in the region.  Added reason for concern is that biologists have determined that the quagga in the Lower Colorado River are reproducing at three to four times the rate of quagga in the Great Lakes, likely due to the warmer temperatures.

Quagga mussels threaten water systems in a number of ways.  First, quagga impact water infrastructure by attaching themselves to water pumps, underground siphons, tunnels and canals, causing these systems to clog and requiring expensive physical and chemical treatment to remove them.  Second, quagga impact water ecology by consuming massive amounts of nutrients in the water, depriving plant and animal species of food, and impacting the food chain.  Third, water quality is degraded because the depletion of nutrients can cause algae plumes, often creating odor problems and water discoloration.  Finally, infestation prevention efforts are likely to be very costly in terms of boat inspections as well as the potential forced closure of some lakes, reservoirs and rivers.  Given that there are an estimated 1 million registered boats and personal watercraft in California and roughly 200,000 in Arizona and Nevada, the economic impact to the boating, fishing and tourism industry could be massive.

Local and state officials are doing their best to address the problem, but I believe a much stronger federal role is essential to better coordinate the necessary multi-state response.  It is my understanding that the Department has not sought any additional funding despite the threat that quagga mussels pose to National Park Service resources and vital Bureau of Reclamation infrastructure.  Additionally, there also appears to be some confusion regarding whether they or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is responsible for coordinating the overall federal response.  It is critical that the Department inform Congress about what funds are necessary for these agencies to develop and implement a comprehensive response and provide clear direction as to who is responsible for administering the overall effort.

As a first step, I would ask that you formally designate a coordinator for the Department to lead the federal response and work with the relevant state and local agencies.  I recommend that you delegate this responsibility to an Assistant Secretary, the Director of the National Invasive Species Council or the Director of Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force.  I would further suggest that your designee’s responsibilities include, but not be limited to:

  • Coordinating the federal government’s quagga detection, containment, population control, and mitigation efforts with state and local entities;
  • Engaging other federal stakeholders, including the Army Corps of Engineers, NOAA, and the EPA, who have already done extensive work on this problem in the Great Lakes region;
  • Providing direction and oversight of federally funded quagga research;
  • Establishing a repository of quagga-related information, including scientific research, infestation tracking and economic impact data, public education material, and best practices guidance;
  • Acting as a liaison to Congress, state and local government agencies, and industries impacted by quagga mussel infestations.

Secondly, I request that the Department develop an Invasive Mussel Control Plan as soon as possible to detect, contain, mitigate, and potentially eradicate quagga and zebra mussel populations as a coordinated effort among federal, state and local agencies.  The plan should focus on both highly infested areas, such as the Lower Colorado River Basin, as well uninfested waters in the western United States.  I would also suggest that the plan identify priorities for research, infestation prevention and removal strategies, short and long-term funding needs, potential economic and habitat impacts, threats to water quality, supplies and conveyance systems, and recommendations for federal action.

With the drinking water supplies for more than 25 million Americans and potentially billions of dollars in adverse impacts at stake, it is critical that the Department act quickly to address this growing problem.  Thank you for your time and consideration of my requests.  I look forward to your response and working with you to address this issue.


Senator Dianne Feinstein
United States Senator