Okanagan Basin Water Board upgrades position on mussels

If mussels take hold in local lakes, impact could be more than $43 million.

The Okanagan Basin Water Board is strengthening its case against invasive mussels.

On Tuesday, directors upgraded their position on zebra and quagga mussels and the potential risk the species poses to Okanagan waterways.

“We are trying to put pressure on the provincial government to do more and have five inspection stations,” said director Juliette Cunningham.

“There is a cost if we don’t stop them (mussels) from arriving here.”

It’s believed the annual impact to government, businesses and residents could be more than $43 million if the mussels take hold in local lakes.

“This scenario has played out across watersheds throughout North America, where ecosystems and local economies have been drastically altered by these invaders,” states OBWB’s position statement.

Zebra and quagga mussels are native to eastern Europe and they have spread across North America since the 1980s.

They clog water intake pipes, pumps and boat motors. They also deplete food sources for fish and produce toxins that kill fish and birds and contaminate drinking water.

As part of the changes to the position statement, the board is calling on the provincial government to fund permanent, mandatory inspection stations for boats at the five major crossings between B.C. and Alberta.

In March, Victoria announced three mobile stations.

“OBWB strongly urges the provincial government to consider the cost to the province and local governments for the long-term treatment, mitigation or control of zebra or quagga mussels if the province fails to enact appropriate prevention measures and consequently the species are introduced,”  says the position statement.

“We call on the province to commit to funding all treatment and containment programs in infested waters should an invasion occur.”

While the government may be concerned about the cost of running monitoring stations, Cunningham says the budget could come from a boater-pay sticker program, similar to those in the U.S.

“Those with watercraft pay and it seems effective. I’m not sure why the province is reluctant to look at that,” she said.

OBWB also wants water utilities to review what upgrades and maintenance measures will be needed if the mussels arrive and ways to prevent service interruptions.