Ballast water carries threat of invasive species
Sightings of mudsnails in Minnesota pose a threat to our waterways
By Rick Hansen, Scott Dibble, and Ann Rest
St. Paul Pioneer Press
Published May 11, 2006
The discovery this month of the New Zealand mudsnail in the Duluth-Superior Harbor and the St. Louis River Estuary again shows us that we face serious threats to our environment from invasive species carried here in the ballast of ocean-going ships.
The tiny mudsnail, native to New Zealand, can form hundreds of thousands of clones each year. In other places that have become infested by the millions, the mudsnail has pushed out native insects, snails and other invertebrates that are vital sources of food for fish. It appears that these snails were carried into the Great Lakes via ship-ballast water, as many other invasive species currently wreaking havoc on the ecological balance of Lake Superior and inland waters have been.
Consider just some of the threats we're already fighting: the sea lamprey, Asian carp, spiny water flea, zebra mussel, reed canary grass, buckthorn, Eurasian water milfoil, purple loose-strife, gypsy moth, grass carp and garlic mustard — the mudsnail is just the latest addition to this lengthy list. Eliminating them is impossible; once they arrive, they are here for good. It is just a matter of time until these new snails spread across the entire state, even with vigorous and expensive efforts to education citizens, businesses and visitors to take necessary steps to contain them.
We have long been concerned about the environmental and economic impact to our state from invasive species in our water. The cost associated with the often-futile attempts to mitigate damage from invasive species can be astronomical, costing landowners and resource management agencies millions of dollars each year. We can be sure that millions more will have to be spent to clean up lakes and rivers across the state as soon as we see evidence of their proliferation into the state's inland waters.
Prevention, education and regulation are the keys to reducing this threat. We have offered legislation in the House and Senate that requires strict regulation of the discharge of ballast water in the Great Lakes and other connecting waterways.
Our bills also create a regional coalition to prevent further threats from these types of invasive species. This legislation would help prevent the introduction of new invasive species into Minnesota and curb the spread of those that already exist in our state. Unfortunately, industry interests have so far successfully stopped our legislation and delayed action at the federal level.
One small bit of good news: Last week the House appropriated $261,000 in its supplemental budget for 2007 for the purpose of containing invasive species, admittedly a small first step, but pro-gress nonetheless. Overall, however, the state spends a paltry amount in light of this ongoing crisis. Other states, including each of the Midwest Great Lakes states, have enacted far more stringent regulations than has Minnesota. It's time to step up our own efforts, knowing that prevention and education are far more cost-effective than chasing after less-than-effective cleanup measures.
We've already seen the damage that can occur if we ignore problems that have the potential to get out of hand. As part of our environmental responsibility to our children and our grandchildren, we must act now to protect our waters from the threats that endanger one of our most precious natural resources, our clean water.
The authors are Democratic members of the Minnesota Legislature. Reach Rep. Hansen at 651-296-6828, Sen. Dibble at 651-296-4191 and Sen. Rest at 651-296-2889.