Are freshwater mussels likely to become the next species on the brink of extinction and the new beacon of water quality problems in the Northwest? NWEA recently submitted comments demonstrating that freshwater mussels are a rapid decline and their loss puts entire ecosystems at risk. The occasion for comments was Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) proposed water quality standard for ammonia.
The new ammonia standard is a direct consequence of NWEA’s lawsuits against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) concerning the inadequacy of Oregon’s water quality standards to protect fish and wildlife from toxic chemicals. Ammonia is one pollutant that NMFS concluded in 2012 has “significant adverse toxicological and biological effects” on salmon and steelhead, otherwise known as “jeopardy.”
While NMFS is still considering whether the proposed ammonia standard is adequate for fish, EPA has found that freshwater mussels and snails are the most sensitive species to the effects of ammonia. Getting the ammonia standard right and then making sure that Oregon’s waters meet the standard is critical because freshwater mussels are one of the most endangered groups of animals on Earth.
NWEA urged DEQ to provide the needed protection to freshwater mussels by eliminating the use of so-called mixing zones in which pollution is allowed to violate standards downstream of where it is discharged. NWEA pointed out that, unlike fish, mussels can neither avoid mixing zones or swim through them rapidly.