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By Dan Rogers
Manager of Member Services, Missoula Electric Cooperative 

Montana's Unwelcome Visitor

 


With the recent discovery of aquatic invasive species (AIS) larvae in Montana’s waters, the pressure is on to protect this pristine resource which is so vital to recreation, tourism and the overall economy of our state.

Last fall, AIS were detected in the Tiber Reservoir east of Shelby, while suspicious samples were drawn form the Canyon Ferry Reservoir, the Missouri River below Toston Dam and the Milk River. While zebra and quagga mussels have been present in waterways from the Great Lakes to the Gulf Coast, Montana has been fortunate up until now to avoid the pervasive pests.

Seeking to avoid a fate similar to other rivers and lakes living with AIS infestations, Gov. Bullock issued an executive order this past November declaring a statewide natural resource emergency for Montana waters. The order prompted the formation of a rapid response team to address the evolving AIS situation in the state.

Anyone either from or familiar with the Great Lakes region, knows how quickly the invaders can gain ground and how devastating they can be to the environment as well as the economy of an affected area.

For the purpose of this article, AIS refers to zebra and quagga mussels – two small bivalve mollusks native to the waters of Russia who traveled to North America in the 1980s in the ballast water of cargo ships. Once established, the invaders spread quickly attaching to anything and everything thereby clogging water intakes, gumming up moving parts and competing for resources with native species.

While products and treatments are being developed and tested to one day eradicate AIS from infested waters, Montana’s proactive stance aims to prevent or delay the invaders from becoming an established population.

Near the end of the 65th Montana Legislative Session, Sen. Chas Vincent introduced Senate Bill 363 to fund the fight against the spread of AIS. The bill, which was signed by Gov. Bullock in May will collect $12 million from three revenue sources. Anglers will be required to purchase an AIS Prevention Pass in addition to any fishing license issued by the state. The $2 resident and $15 non-resident passes are expected to generate $8.3 million to battle the spread of AIS.

Non-anglers were exempted from the prevention pass requirement but may support the effort by voluntarily purchasing the tags. The money generated will be used to staff and equip additional watercraft inspection stations around the state.

In addition to the fees collected from anglers, $3.7 million in additional funds will be collected from hydroelectric generators and hydro-dependent electricity providers. Beginning this summer, an AIS fee of $795.76 per megawatt will be levied against all non-federal hydroelectric generation owners in Montana whose facilities exceed 1.5 megawatts of nameplate capacity.

The third funding source, one which directly impacts 13 of Montana’s 25 electric cooperatives, will come from electric providers who purchase more that 50 percent of their power supply from hydroelectric facilities. Approximately 88 percent of the energy we purchase at MEC is hydro-sourced from the Federal Columbia River Power System. As a result, our members will be assessed a fee based on 2015 kilowatt-hour sales which totals approximately $100,000 over the next two years. The calculated fee will be remitted to the Department of Revenue quarterly with a June 2020 sunset date.

As a beneficiary of the tremendous power resource our rivers provide, MEC recognizes the importance of the state’s efforts to address the AIS problem. AIS has proven to be a significant problem for hydroelectric dams located in affected areas, as the mussels inhabit the component parts of the system.

We also expect that a permanent funding mechanism, borne by all stakeholders, is identified to fund the program during the next two years beyond the scheduled sunset date in 2020. In fact, lawmakers have pledged that the cooperative’s hydropower assessment is “bridge funding” which will not extend beyond the scheduled sunset date in 2020.

One of Montana’s most valuable resources has and will always be its natural beauty. As stewards of this tremendous resource, we know that its value flows from its continued viability. As residents, or non-resident visitors, we are all stakeholders with a vested interest in maintaining the health of these waters.

We must all work to prevent the spread of AIS in Montana through our actions and through mechanisms that equitably leverage contributions from all stakeholders. The effects of doing nothing would be disastrous for a state whose economy is tied to these priceless resources.

 

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