Lawmakers Consider Mandatory Decontamination For Boats With Ballast Or Bladders

Mar 11, 2019

State legislators are considering requiring mandatory decontamination for wakeboarding boats, and having boat owners pay for the procedure.

House Bill 608 would establish a $50 fee for boats with ballasts or bladders to undergo a mandatory decontamination each time they enter the state or cross the Continental Divide into the Columbia River basin.

Proponents of the bill, like Colin Cooney with Montana Trout Unlimited, said at a hearing Monday that it targets boats most likely to transport potentially harmful aquatic invasive species.

"This just makes sense," Cooney said. "The ballast system in these boats can just hold water and be a perfect breeding-ground for these zebra mussels and invasive species."

Wakeboard-style boats can hold hundreds of gallons of water in internal bladders that don’t fully drain, making them more likely than other vessels to carry enough standing water to transport live invasive species. A hot water flush is the standard decontamination in the West.

The bill, sponsored by Representative Joe Read, a Republican from Ronan, makes an exception for boat owners who can prove they haven’t launched in any water body for the previous 30 days.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks inspected more than 3,000 ballast boats last year and estimates 2,000 boats would be subject to the proposed fee and redirection from a field station to a regional office for the decontamination. Legislative staff estimate the fee could generate $100,000 annually. Other western states charge decontamination fees for ballast boats.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is not currently capable of accepting the fee at field stations but would consider alternate methods for payment. Representative Read said he is considering an amendment that would leave the fee to FWP’s discretion.

No one spoke against the bill Monday. Three people, including a Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks representative, spoke in favor of it.

The House Natural Resources Committee took no action on the bill Monday.