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House bill seeks up to $30 million for Sonoma, Mendocino counties’ fight against invasive mussels

After nearly a decade of holding the line against invasive mussels, North Bay water agencies are hoping to welcome reinforcements.

A measure that would make up to $30 million available annually to the Army Corps of Engineers to help guard against quagga and zebra mussels before they infest local water bodies, including Lake Sonoma and Lake Mendocino, has been included in a federal omnibus spending bill, which is on track to be signed by President Donald Trump.

The Water Resources Development Act of 2020 would bolster mussel prevention efforts in the Russian River basin that have for the past eight years been shored up by local and state funding.

“For us in the mussel prevention field, this is very exciting news,” said Brad Sherwood, a spokesman for Sonoma Water.

Commonly sniffed out by dogs, invasive quagga and zebra mussels are a would-be menace to local waterways. As they cling en masse, they clog water intakes, drown navigational buoys, deteriorate dock pilings, corrode concrete and steel and push out native species.

The specter of local introduction loomed large just a year ago, when two boats stopped at the inspection point were found to be infested with the destructive shellfish. That find helped bolster the push for stronger protections of reservoirs including Lake Sonoma, which serves as the main source of water for more than 600,000 residents and businesses in the North Bay.

“If introduced into Lake Sonoma and Lake Mendocino, quagga and zebra mussels could destroy critical infrastructure, devastate our Coho salmon recovery program at Lake Sonoma and cost millions of dollars in maintenance,” Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore said in a statement, thanking Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, who voted for the measure.

The bill would exponentially increase the resources available to stem any invasion in the Russian River watershed, which stretches from north of Ukiah down to Rohnert Park and Cotati and west to the coast at Jenner. Sherwood said up to $900,000 is spent annually monitoring for mussels in Sonoma County’s portion of the basin, $600,000 of which comes via state grants. The funding covers half-day inspections at a single point at Lake Sonoma — nothing approaching a full-scale program.

An expanded mussel prevention program under the Army Corps, which operates Lake Sonoma and Lake Mendocino, could include inspections from sunrise to sunset — and enough inspectors to cover all boat ramps at the two reservoirs.

It would also support development of decontamination stations at the two sites. Currently, boaters ordered to decontaminate their vessels must travel to a station at Lake Berryessa in Napa County.

Sherwood said bipartisan passage in the House more than a week ago bodes well for approval in the Senate, although he added “anything is possible.” He said that there’s plenty of work to do to stymie an existential threat to local waterways.

Lake Sonoma Marina owner Rick Herbert agreed.

“The Lake Sonoma boating community believes the invasive mussels pose one of the largest threats to our reservoir’s water quality, ecosystem and overall health,” Herbert said in a statement. “We look forward to continuing our collaboration with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as they ramp up boat inspections with this new funding authorization.”

You can reach Staff Writer Tyler Silvy at 707-526-8667 or tyler.silvy@pressdemocrat.com.

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