Zebra mussel shell cluster. Image Credit: Contributed

Invasive mussels meeting

Okanagan Basin Water Board directors seek help from federal government

Okanagan Basin Water Board directors met with federal government officials this week looking for more financial support of the invasive mussel awareness and prevention campaign.

The directors were in Ottawa for the annual Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference, and took the opportunity to meet with several officials to discuss invasive zebra and quagga mussels.

“They were very welcoming and open to what we had to say,” said Tracy Gray, chair of the OBWB and a Kelowna city councillor.

Gray was joined by OBWB vice-chair Juliette Cunningham, past chair West Kelowna Mayor Doug Findlater, and board director Peter Waterman.

Also at the meeting were Burnaby North-Seymour MP Terry Beech, parliamentary secretary to the federal Ministry of Fisheries and Oceans; Nicholas Winfield, director general ecosystems management for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans; Ashraf Amlani, DFO special assistant for the Pacific-West Coast region; and Kelowna-Lake Country MP Stephen Fuhr.

Of concern to the OBWB is the threat of invasive zebra and quagga mussels being introduced into Okanagan waters and elsewhere across the Pacific Northwest.

The mussels, which originated from Eastern Europe, are making their way across the U.S. and parts of Canada, primarily hitchhiking their way on watercraft.

They are known to stimulate toxic algae blooms, litter beaches with sharp shells, clog boat motors, foul water intakes and outfalls, put fish and the ecology of lakes at risk, and more.

At this time, there is no proven method to eradicate the mussels once they arrive that doesn’t also cause significant environmental impacts. The Okanagan is considered at high risk because of its warm, calcium-rich waters.

A 2013 study for the water board estimated that the mussels would cost the Okanagan $43 million a year to just manage.

The OBWB delegation presented four recommendations to the federal environment officials:

1. The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Dominic LeBlanc, allocate targeted funding to match provincial spending toward improved invasive mussel education, containment and prevention regimes for summer 2017;

2. The minister meet with Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) as soon as possible to enhance the protection of federally-controlled lands, waterways, and ports of entry (border crossings) by developing a joint work plan and actions to ensure enforcement of the Aquatic Invasive Species Regulations by both DFO fisheries officers and CBSA agents through the use of mandatory watercraft inspections;

3. The minister appoint senior department staff to participate in the Pacific Northwest Economic Region Invasive Species Working Group (PNWER) to coordinate federal, provincial and international efforts to stop the spread of invasive mussels; and

4. OBWB requests a response letter as soon as possible that outlines the minister’s decision and actions on the recommendations to prevent the further spread of invasive mussels in Canada.

Gray said the federal officials noted that the government allocated $43.8 million over five years, starting in 2017-18, to address aquatic invasive species in Canada.

“There is no final plan for those funds yet, so this is a great opportunity to include invasive mussel efforts,” she added. “They also acknowledged that prevention is better than dealing with the mussels once they arrive. I think it was impactful to hear prevention vs. management numbers.”

In Montana, for example, the state was paying $1.2 million a year on prevention efforts and had been looking to expand those efforts when the mussels were discovered in October 2016 in two of their reservoirs. Today, the budget is $5.25 million each year to manage the infestation.

Gray said MPs Beech and Fuhr agreed to follow-up with CBSA to try to elevate the issue.

Beech said he would speak with theLeBlanc and that the government was committed to having someone attend the July PNWER annual summit in Portland, Ore., where the mussel issue is to be discussed.

“We’re hoping that by having the feds come to the PNWER table, it will help familiarize them with the issue, with what others are doing to tackle the mussels, and better identify how they can participate. It adds some accountability to address the issue,” added Gray.

For the OBWB’s part, it will continue to push the federal and provincial government to do all it can on the mussel file.

“If we didn’t push as long and hard as we have, we wouldn’t be where we are at,” said Gray, pointing to federal legislation that prohibits the importation, possession, transport and release of the mussels in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, as well as provincial inspection stations.

“This must continue – the risks are too high.”