BOSTON – Today, in anticipation of the 2010 summer boating season, the Massachusetts Senate endorsed legislation hoping to shield the Commonwealth’s lakes and ponds from further contamination by zebra mussels and other aquatic nuisance species, under the leadership of state Senator Benjamin B. Downing (D- Pittsfield).
Downing sponsored An Act Protecting Lakes and Ponds last summer after zebra mussels were discovered – for the first time ever in Massachusetts – in Berkshire County’s Laurel Lake. The legislation passed by the Senate reflects the recommendations of the state’s Zebra Mussel Task Force, established by the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs to author a zebra mussel action plan after the aquatic nuisance was identified in Lee.
“Boating, fishing and swimming are favored summer recreational activities in Berkshire County,” said Downing. “Last summer’s discovery of zebra mussels in Laurel Lake caused widespread panic among local lake users, because a plan of action to deal with their detection was not readily available. I am hopeful final passage of this legislation will help the state environmental agencies implement the state’s zebra mussel action plan. It should also remind all lake users of our collective responsibility to ensure human actions do not threaten the environmental health of our cherished lakes, ponds and other natural resources.”
Aquatic nuisance species, like zebra mussels, pose a significant threat to lakes, ponds, rivers and reservoirs statewide, creating significant adverse impacts on recreation, ecology, fisheries, aesthetics and property values. The task force determined that under existing law state environmental agencies do not possess the necessary enforcement authority to manage the immediate and long-term effect of zebra mussels, or the means to manage aquatic nuisances that are likely to infest the Massachusetts’ natural resources in the future.
Other states have developed such enforcement authority and capacity to address aquatic nuisance species. Downing’s bill seeks to protect uncontaminated lakes and ponds with a long-term approach to manage aquatic nuisances that may affect Massachusetts’ inland bodies of water.
The legislation tasks the Department of Conservation and Recreation with establishing an aquatic nuisance control program to study and promote improved methods of suppressing, controlling or reducing the risk of the spread of aquatic nuisances. This program will collaborate with other state and federal agencies engaged in the study or control of aquatic nuisances.
The bill makes clear that lake and pond users cannot knowingly or willfully launch a vessel that has been in contaminated waters without first decontaminating it in accordance with state environmental regulations. Zebra mussels were likely introduced to Laurel Lake by a boat previously launched into the contaminated waters of neighboring states.
The bill also strengthens enforcement measures by allowing the Department of Conservation and Recreation to impose civil penalties for violations of any rules, regulations, orders, or quarantines issued by the Commissioner. The Massachusetts Environmental Police are authorized to proceed against the certificate of number of a vessel involved in a violation. Further, progressive fines for violating aquatic nuisance rules, regulations, orders, or quarantines are established.
The legislation now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration. Information on the Zebra Mussel Task Force and its recommendations is available online at www.mass.gov/envir.