From: Reuters
Published March 19, 2008 07:45 PM

Step up fight against Great Lakes invaders: groups

By Andrew Stern

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Government inaction threatens to undermine the multibillion-dollar fight against non-native species that threaten the Great Lakes, environmental groups said on Wednesday.

Utilities and municipalities reliant on the five lakes that collectively make up the world's largest surface body of fresh water already spend an estimated $1.3 billion a year clearing zebra mussels from intake pipes and filters, they said.

The mussel, first discovered in the lakes 20 years ago, along with its cousin the quagga mussel, the round goby and other invaders, pose serious threats to the lakes' ecosystem by crowding out other species and filtering out food vital to fish.

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The mussels' proficiency at filtering lake water have led to algae blooms that spoil beaches, prompted botulism outbreaks that have caused fish and bird die-offs, created "dead zones" in the lakes and triggered episodes of smelly drinking water.

The total cost of invasive species in the Great Lakes, which provide drinking water to 40 million people, is an estimated $5 billion a year, said Andy Buchsbaum of the National Wildlife Federation.

The groups called on Canada and the United States to tighten regulations on how ships plying the lakes through the St. Lawrence Seaway deal with their ballast water, which is thought to be the main source of invasive species.

Current rules require ships to flush ballast tanks with ocean water but are not closely enforced, and are inadequate to kill hardy species, the environmentalists said. Ship-board technologies that kill anything living inside ballast tanks are available.

"Each year the Seaway reopens without adequate protections risks new invasive species," said Jennifer Nalbone of Great Lakes United. "Our federal governments are inviting another catastrophe."

Meanwhile, the invading mussels have continued to spread, turning up as far east as the Hudson River and as far west as California reservoirs and Lake Mead.

(Editing by Xavier Briand)

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