Calling them a threat to critical water infrastructure, and the agriculture dependent on it, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife announced new tactics and an infusion of $10 million in its war against a South American swamp rodent.
Weighing in at about 20 pounds, the web-footed prolific breeders—called nutria—look a bit like small beavers with rat-like tails. Officials fear that their normal behaviors—burrowing and chomping on aquatic plants—could undermine California’s levees.
A major levee break in the Delta would flood valuable island farmland, while reducing Delta water levels generally. That could leave the pumps feeding the California aqueduct high and dry, cutting off the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California from an important source of water.
Officials are using traps, trail cameras and plan to introduce search dogs, along with sterilized nutria fitted with radio collars, in hopes they lead officials to any wild colonies of the elusive, nocturnal creatures. Officials with the department said nutria have been spotted as far north as Stockton.