Bill seeks to protect Nevada waterways | NevadaAppeal.com

Bill seeks to protect Nevada waterways

(AP) – A bill aimed at protecting Nevada’s waterways from invasive species is being considered in the Nevada Legislature but is encountering opposition because of fees proposed to establish a permanent boat inspection program.

During a hearing Thursday, Assemblywoman Irene Bustamante Adams, D-Las Vegas, said SB167 would establish an inspection program to prohibit launching of boats contaminated with invasive species into state waters. A similar program is already in place at Lake Tahoe to prevent the spread of quagga and zebra mussels.

It would also make deliberate introduction of invasive species a felony with fines up to $250,000.

“Our state is in a battle, and we need your help in protecting our waters,” Bustamante Adams told the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources, Agriculture and Mining.

Quagga mussels appeared in southern Nevada’s Lake Mead in 2007 and have since overrun the reservoir, costing millions. A similar threat is posed by the zebra mussel. Another invading creature, the New Zealand mud snail, is found in waters surrounding Nevada.

“This is a very serious problem, and it could get far worse,” said Kyle Davis, policy director for the Nevada Conservation League, which joined several conservation groups, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and the Southern Nevada Water Authority in supporting the bill.

But representatives of Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval said he is against a fee proposed for boat operators to pay for the program. Some lawmakers expressed similar concerns as well.

The current bill calls for the Nevada Wildlife Commission to impose a “reasonable” annual fee for the invasive species program, with no amount yet identified.

“You’re going to ask me as a boater … to pay a fee over the period of a lifetime,” said Assemblyman Pete Livermore, R-Carson City. “I’m a little concerned about what we’re creating here.”

Davis said that a user fee to cover the program’s cost is a “logical step,” particularly at a time when governments are so financially strapped.

Assemblyman David Bobzien, D-Reno, a bill sponsor, questioned if the legislation is worth discussion if a fee to pay for it is off the table.

But Richard Haskins, deputy director of the Nevada Department of Wildlife, said getting an aquatic invasive species program going is critical and that some other means of funding it might be possible.

“There’s a real need right now,” Haskins said.