OBWB lobbies province, feds for action on mussels

By on April 9, 2014
Zebra mussels encrust a current meter retrieved from Lake Michigan. Mussels cover every imaginable surface in the water once they infest a waterway. They are spread by careless boaters, but Canada lacks federal regulations needed to stop them at the border. (U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

Zebra mussels encrust a current meter retrieved from Lake Michigan. Mussels cover every imaginable surface in the water once they infest a waterway. They are spread by careless boaters, but Canada lacks federal regulations needed to stop them at the border. (U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

The Okanagan Basin Water Board (OBWB) is stepping up its efforts to get the provincial and federal governments to take action against invasive mussels.

Anna Warwick Sears, OBWB executive director, said last week that a letter is being sent to Premier Christie Clark, Environment Minister Mary Polak and other provincial government MLAs “to reiterate the sense of urgency we feel here in the Okanagan.”

The threat of invasive mussels to the Okanagan lakes was underscored last month when a boat encrusted with quagga mussels was stopped coming into Canada at the Osoyoos border crossing.

The OBWB estimates the annual cost of controlling damage would be around $43 million a year if quagga or zebra mussels enter Okanagan lakes.

The mussels have taken over many lake and river systems in eastern Canada and the United States, where they encrust themselves on water intakes and docks, contaminate water and leave razor-sharp shells on beaches.

In recent years, the mussels have been spread by recreational boaters to the southwestern U.S.

The OBWB is asking the province for inspection stations funded by a user-pay inspection sticker program based on similar programs in the U.S.

The biggest gap, however, is the need for federal regulations that would allow Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) officials to bar the entry to Canada of contaminated boats, Warwick Sears said in a recent report to her board.

The OBWB has contacted Conservative Okanagan MPs Ron Cannan and Dan Albus, who said that regulations are in progress, but they don’t know the timelines, Warwick Sears said.

When a CBSA official stopped the driver with the contaminated boat on March 12, the driver was co-operative. Without the regulations that would prohibit importation of invasive species under the federal Fisheries Act, CBSA might not be able to stop a less co-operative driver.

The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) held consultations with stakeholders on the new regulations between November 2012 and April 2013.

“Work on the regulation is continuing,” a DFO spokesperson said in an emailed reply. “In addition to analysis of initial feedback from consultations, the legal drafting process needs to be completed as well as documentation necessary to satisfy the requirements of the federal regulatory process. As these are the first national regulations in Canada to combat AIS (aquatic invasive species), they will require time to properly develop.”

The spokesperson was unable to provide a timeline for the regulations, but said they will be published in the Canada Gazette when complete, allowing for a 30-day public comment period.

In a recent briefing note to Premier Clark and Okanagan MLAs, Warwick Sears said the OBWB is asking the province to finalize and implement a plan, previously developed, that would protect B.C. waters from aquatic invasive species.

“The plan should include how best to decontaminate boats, resources needed to inspect boats coming into the province across the U.S. and Alberta borders, allocate appropriate conservation officer time to support inspections and increase funding for public awareness and boater education,” Warwick Sears wrote.

She also asked the province to allocate up to $30,000 to support the development of a business plan looking at a user-pay (sticker-supported) boat inspection program to increase awareness and enforcement.

Idaho and Montana have funded their boat inspection programs entirely through the sale of inspection stickers, she said.

“Funds from these stickers can support inspection stations at the B.C./U.S. border and the B.C./Alberta border,” Warwick Sears wrote. “Local rates for stickers could be lower than visitor rates or rates for imported vessels.”

The OBWB is going to encourage local municipalities to write letters to senior governments on the mussel issue as well, Warwick Sears said.

RICHARD McGUIRE

Osoyoos Times

 

 

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