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Mussel scare prompts Okanagan Water Board to call for out-of-province boat ban

Okanagan connection to Idaho river invasive mussel discovery

The Okanagan Basin Water Board (OBWB) wants to temporarily ban out-of-province boats following the recent discovery of invasive quagga mussel larvae in an Idaho river in the U.S.

“It means infected boats would not enter the province at all and that the province would have a chance to address gaps in the inspection system before opening back up to out-of-province boats,” said James Littely, deputy administrator for the OBWB.

The Idaho State Department of Agriculture (IDSA) reported the larvae were found in the Snake River near a waterfront park in Twin Falls, Idaho.

Initial reports indicated the quagga mussels found were viligers – the larvae form of the mussels which had not yet attached to a surface, but instead were free-floating in the water.

The IDSA said the introduction of quagga mussels poses a huge threat to the state in terms of economics, recreation and water use.

“As they grow and mature, they will attach to any substrate they can,” said IDSA director Chanel Tewalt in an interview with KTVB7 News.

“That includes irrigation pipes, piers, and docks. All of the things that we want to keep free and clear from mussels.”

Littely added invasive mussels can alter aquatic ecosystems, have devastating economic impacts, and change the way people recreate on beaches and the water.

The ISDA conducts boat inspections and collects water samples, which is how the mussels were detected in late September, which in turn initiated the state’s rapid response plan.

That plan includes the ISDA finding out how large the impact zone is, implementing containment measures, conducting delimiting surveys, and evaluating treatments.

In discussing the Idaho mussel discovery at their October meeting, OBWB directors voted to establish a working group to review the potential response to the mussels.

Where the closest infestation up to now has been in Manitoba in Canada and South Dakota in the U.S., Twin Falls is only an 11-hour drive from Osoyoos, while the Snake River is a tributary to the Columbia River which also connects to the Okanagan.

READ MORE: Conservation dog detects invasive mussels on boat bound for B.C. waters

The water board reports a copper-based treatment option will be released into the Snake River waters to kill the mussels, but acknowledging it will also kill fish and aquatic plants in the area.

Littely said that is not a likely method to treat a possible infestation here.

“We’re extremely skeptical that any type of chemical treatment could work in the Okanagan given the size of our lakes, it’s just not feasible.”

He said a moratorium on out-of-province boats would likely last until spring next year when more water samples can determine the effectiveness of the treatment in Idaho and the full status of the infestation of the Columbia Basin is assessed.

He asked the regional district board to write letters to both federal and provincial ministers responsible for waterways in support of the call for the moratorium.

The OBWB has been a vocal advocate in recent years for both the federal government to step up preventative measure funding against zebra and quagga mussel infestations, and for the province to step up inspections for boats coming into the Okanagan Shuswap region.

Once they take hold in a waterway, the mussels are impossible to get rid of, resulting in millions of dollars annually in waterway maintenance and infrastructure repair, while eliminating recreation use.

A study by the Ministry of Water, Land, and Resource Stewardship released earlier this year estimated the potential economic impact of zebra and quagga mussels in B.C. would be $64 million to $129 million in annual mitigation costs.

READ MORE: Working to keep invasive species out of the Columbia Shuswap