Zebra mussels study underway

WATERTOWN, S.D.(Press Release} A study of the economic impact of zebra mussels on South Dakota is underway as water resource groups work to elevate the importance of dealing with invasive aquatic species.

The $107,000 study spearheaded by the South Dakota Lakes and Streams Association is designed to provide legislators and other government leaders with the necessary information to better engage in protecting the state’s lakes and rivers.

The razor-like mollusk significantly threatens irrigation, hydropower, recreational boating, fishing, tourism, water supplies, and more.

The Lakes and Streams Association took the lead on securing financing for the study because South Dakota essentially is “throwing up its hands in capitulation” in dealing with the issue, said board member Deb Soholt, a former state senator.

Lakes and Streams Association head Brad Johnson of Watertown said that the state simply is not a player in the nationwide effort to fight zebra mussels.

South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks has been the state’s lead agency, but its approach primarily is random boat inspections, and it regularly says there is little the state can do to prevent more infestations. That is something the association hopes to change.

The study is being conducted at the University of South Dakota in partnership with South Dakota State University. Nanette Nelson, a research economist with the University of Montana, is assisting in the study. Her 2019 Montana study showed zebra mussels could create between $299 million and $497 million in damages in that state.

There are 22 lakes and rivers in South Dakota infested with zebra mussels, including Lake Kampeska in Watertown. The mussels first arrived in the state in 2015. The infestation pace has grown, with 11 new water bodies infested each of the last two years.

In 2023, the James River, Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Roy Lake, the Big Sioux River, Big Stone Lake, and Lake Oahe were added to the list.