Montana’s senators introduced a bill Wednesday to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species.

The “Stop the Spread of Invasive Mussels Act of 2019” would authorize $25 million annually to the Bureau of Reclamation, an agency of the U.S. Department of the Interior, for watercraft inspection and decontamination sites — the key tool for stopping zebra and quagga mussels. The Bureau of Reclamation doesn’t have any money specified for these efforts.

The bill would also strengthen federal and local government partnerships, better coordinate the various agencies working on aquatic invasive species and prioritize money for at-risk areas.

“Empowering our local communities with the resources they need to ensure our waterways, rivers and lakes remain free from these invasive species is critical to our Montana way of life,” said Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican.

Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat, said the bill will help build and staff new inspection stations for aquatic invasive species “so we can better contain their spread and avoid hundreds of millions of dollars in mitigation down the line.”

Daines and Tester introduced the bill with Sen. Michael Bennet, a Colorado Democrat.

Over the last few decades, zebra and quagga mussels have spread to dozens of states. They are difficult to eradicate and can damage infrastructure, limit recreation and harm ecosystems. The Montana Invasive Species Council has estimated that if zebra and quagga mussels take hold, the state could lose $234 million annually in mitigation costs and lost revenue.

Fish, Wildlife & Parks began inspecting watercraft in Montana in 2004. Those inspections led to the detection of invasive mussels in the Tiber Reservoir and a suspect detection in Canyon Ferry Lake in 2016. The mussels likely came from watercraft used in contaminated areas of other states and then brought to Montana.

FWP quarantined the reservoir and the lake, requiring mandatory inspection and decontamination of all equipment exiting the two water bodies.

In 2017, the state Legislature also doubled funding — setting it at about $7 million annually for two years — for the prevention and monitoring of the invasive mussels. When that money expired this year, lawmakers set aside a similar amount for the effort.

In November, FWP announced that it hadn’t found aquatic invasive mussels in the state this year. Canyon Ferry — which has now been free of invasive mussels since 2016 — could be removed from quarantine by the end of the year. FWP would then switch from mandatory decontamination stations to a mobile inspection team.

Because FWP found multiple mussel samples in Tiber Reservoir, the waterbody must remain mussel free for another two years before the quarantine can be lifted.

Perrin Stein can be reached at pstein@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2648.

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