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Council urges province to initiate programs to keep invasive mussels from B.C. waters
Town of Osoyoos council is throwing its support behind the Okanagan Basin Water Board’s (OBWB) recent proclamation asking the provincial and federal government to take more seriously the threat posed by invasive zebra and quagga mussels in this province and across Canada.
Last week, the OBWB issued a statement officially calling on the province and federal government to step up efforts to ensure zebra and quagga mussels don’t spread and wreak havoc on lakes, rivers and streams in the Okanagan Valley.
“If the mussels get into Okanagan waters they have potential to do significant damage to our beaches, fish, people’s boats, tourism, and municipal water systems,” warned Doug Findlater, OBWB’s Board Chair and Mayor of West Kelowna.
“All levels of government need to work together to take action. It looks to me like provincial and federal officials are interested, but a comprehensive strategy is needed and we’re running out of time. Every year that goes by is another year our lakes could get infected.”
Coun. Michael Ryan said invasive mussels have now been detected in 33 American states and three Canadian provinces and it’s going to take a concerted effort to keep them out of British Columbia.
Fortunately, the American states closest to B.C., including Washingston, Idaho and Oregon, have not had any reported sightings of the mussels and all have boating inspection programs in place, said Ryan.
Council approved a motion, written by Ryan, asking the province’s Ministry of Environment to provide sufficient resources to undertake a program offering local inspections at all points of entry into B.C.
The motion also calls upon the provincial government to pass pending legislation as soon as possible and work in co-operation with the Canadian Border Services Agency to ensure appropriate inspection and information is available at all border crossings in this province.
The OBWB’s Executive Director Anna Warwick Sears said “it only takes one boat infested with the mussels, launching in our waters, to cause serious harm to our lakes.”
With spring – and boating season – around the corner, the water board is concerned, knowing large numbers of boats from outside the valley will be heading for our waters, from other parts of Canada and the U.S.
“We are extremely eager to address this issue, but we can’t truly protect the Okanagan without the right laws in place and participation from other levels of government,” added Warwick Sears.
Research conducted for the OBWB notes the arrival of the mussels, originally from Europe, could cost the Okanagan more than $43 million a year to just manage.
They are known to create toxic algae blooms, ruin beaches with sharp shells, destroy boat motors, foul water intakes and outfalls, put the ecology of the water at risk – including its fishery, and more. And, there is no proven method to eradicate the mussels once they arrive.
A recent report from Idaho and its watercraft inspection program which found 19 per cent of the infected boats it stopped in the last five years were on their way to B.C. and Alberta.
“The federal government needs to pass the legislation that has been pending for several months now, making it possible for Canada Border Services Agency staff to stop boats from entering into Canada from the U.S. unless they’ve been inspected,” added Warwick Sears. “As for B.C., it now has fines and jail time for importing the mussels, but no inspection stations to follow-up.
“The province has said each inspection station would cost $60,000 to $160,000 per year, but all of B.C. could be protected by siting these stations at a few major points of entry.
The Idaho inspection program is entirely self-funded through a boat sticker program. British Columbia could do the same. And, given the multi-million dollar cost of an invasion, our board would like to see senior government move forward with a similar program. Prevention is going to cost a lot less than dealing with it once it’s here.”
Coun. C.J. Rhodes supported the motion saying, “I’m confident in saying that these mussels can destroy a lake” within a very short period of time and it’s crucial programs be put in place to keep them out of this province.
Mayor Stu Wells said the media campaign warning the senior levels of government about the dangers of invasive mussels has been strong and he hopes it continues moving forward.