Aquatic invasive Species (AIS), cost businesses and consumers in the Great Lakes region hundreds of millions of dollars annually in direct costs and even more from indirect costs related to removal, maintenance and management of those species. Meanwhile, state and federal governments are currently forced to spend additional millions as they attempt to control the impacts and prevent the spread of AIS, according to a new report by Anderson Economic Group (AEG), commissioned and released by The Nature Conservancy today.
The industries most affected by AIS include sport and commercial fishing, water treatment, power generation and tourism. Together, these industries employ more than 125,000 workers in the Great Lakes region.
The report details the many ways AIS impose economic costs in the Great Lakes region and it puts into context the scale of the impact on several industries directly affected by AIS. For example, the cost of controlling zebra mussels at one water treatment facility is approximately $353,000 annually.
“Some may think that $353,000 doesn’t sound like much in the larger context of business costs, but when you consider that we have 381 water treatment facilities across the basin, those numbers add up quickly,” said Alex Rosaen, consultant at Anderson Economic Group, and the primary author of the report. “That means the region is spending over $100 million annually on managing a pest infestation we might have been able to prevent.”
The report also outlines how indirect costs are spread across the economy. Primary examples are the cost of government to respond to AIS, and the cost of regulations developed in response to AIS.
Other economic costs associated with AIS include decreased productivity caused by resources that must be committed to dealing with the impacts of AIS, like removing zebra mussels from water intake pipes and reduced demand for goods and services, such as fewer tourists or fishermen at popular destinations due to impacted fisheries or beach closures.
“We’ve long known in the conservation community that AIS causes a significant disruption to species in the food chain, but it’s important to be able to quantify the damage to our economy,” said Mary Jean Huston, director of The Nature Conservancy in Wisconsin. “This is not just an environmental problem. It is an economic one, too.”
States across the basin are spending significant financial resources already on maintenance, control and prevention of AIS. According to the report, the state of Wisconsin spent $12 million on AIS in 2009 and 2010 – more than any other state in the Great Lakes region.
Bruce Ramme, Vice President-Environmental at We Energies, Wisconsin's largest electrical and gas utility, said the impact of invasive species is significant on many businesses in the Great Lakes region.
"Invasive species affect our facilities on a daily basis,” Ramme said. “We've invested in measures to minimize the impact – particularly of zebra mussels – on our generation capacity and our operations. We're treating for zebra mussels to make sure our water flows are sufficient and clear.
"Aquatic invasive species are part of the operational and maintenance costs for any facility on the Great Lakes. They increase the cost of doing business."
The largest industry affected by AIS in the Great Lakes is tourism and recreation, which is responsible for employing more than 90,000 people in the region, generating $30.3 billion annually in revenue. Costs range from monitoring and controlling AIS to lost revenue from beach closings affecting hotels, restaurants and other tourism-related businesses.
AIS-related costs are not just relevant to businesses, but also to consumers. Cottage owners in Ontario spend an estimated $355 for each household to install a water filtration system to combat infestations of quagga mussels.
The economic impact of new AIS entering the Great Lakes are particularly troubling. Asian carp (bighead and silver carp) are the most recent, alarming threat because of their unknown effect on the Great Lakes food chain and, as a consequence, to industries like commercial and sport fishing. In the Mississippi River, Asian carp agitated by the sound of passing outboard motors have been known to leap from the water, causing physical harm to people and damage boats and equipment.
“As new AIS invade the Great Lakes, new costs will accrue, additional resources will be used, and new initiatives will be needed,” Rosaen said. “Preventing the spread of new AIS into the Great Lakes would benefit each state.”
The full report can be found online at nature.org/greatlakes.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.