Trained canine searches for invasive mussels attached to this small boat. -Image Credit: Contributed

Inspecting for invasive mussels

Okanagan Basin Water Board pushes for financial commitment from Victoria, Ottawa.

A defensive strategy to ward off a potential influx of invasive mussels this year still is in need of funding.

The Okanagan Basin Water Board is hoping to see last year’s mandatory test inspection program returned and further enhanced to monitor all boats entering B.C. from Alberta and the U.S.

Invasive mussels rapidly multiply and can damage beaches, clog boat motors and dams, harm fish and wildlife, and cause extensive damage to infrastructure.

OBWB representatives met with Stephen Fuhr, the Liberal MP for Kelowna-Lake Country, on March 1 but didn’t get a funding commitment.

“We had a positive meeting for half an hour with (Fuhr) and he said this issue was on his radar,” said Anna Warwick Sears, executive director of the OBWB at the board meeting on Tuesday in Penticton.

While dealing with the invasive mussel issue is a provincial government responsibility, the hope is the feds will kick in some financial assistance to off-set the cost of operating mandatory inspection stations because of potential public safety and fisheries concerns.

Premier Christy Clark was also in Kelowna recently to speak to the local Chamber of Commerce about the provincial budget, and was asked at the luncheon about funding this year for mandatory testing stations.

“All she would say is to expect an announcement soon,” noted OBWB chair Tracy Gray.

Last year, some 24,500 watercraft were inspected for invasive quagga and zebra mussels at eight different inspection stations, manned by some 32 auxiliary conservation officers.

Seventeen boats were confirmed to have adult invasive mussels. Fourteen of the affected watercraft originated in Ontario. The remainder were from Manitoba, Michigan and Nevada.

The cost for the inspection program was covered by a funding partnership involving the province, BC Hydro, FortisBC, Columbia Power and the Columbia Basin Trust.

The OBWB is campaigning to see some of, if not all the stations can operate on a 24/7 basis rather than what was 10 hours a day.

“We’re having close calls,” said OBWB board member and West Kelowna Mayor Doug Findlater last summer.

“We could see someone come through once the station is closed and drop it (a boat) into the water.”

In Alberta, the watercraft inspection program has already started, with 24/7 inspection stations planned for one U.S. border location and Medicine Hat.

“We are deploying the program in stages,” said Cindy Sawchuk, lead for both the Alberta watercraft inspection and conservation canine programs.

“We’ve opened the first border inspection station due to the snowbirds returning home and a lot of them access the Colorado River system where mussels exist so we want to intercept those boats coming back home.”

A second 24/7 station will open near Medicine Hat by the beginning of April, and two further Alberta/Montana border stations and another near Vermillion will be on stream by the end of that month.

All the stations remain in operation until the end of November, funded by the provincial government, with the canine support program funded by Alberta’s water irrigation districts.

The canine program has three dogs which are used at the stations, trained to pick up an odour for a mussel the size of a grain of rice, Sawchuk said.

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