The province is beefing up its protection action again zebra and quagga mussels.
Premier Christy Clark announced Thursday during a stop West Kelowna that $3 million is being added to the budget to keep invasive mussels out of B.C. waters to pay for two new inspection stations, expanding the hours of the eight existing stations, doubling the number of inspectors and adding Canada’s first specially-trained mussel-sniffing dog.
“Invasive mussels have spread to provinces and states throughout North America, but not yet in B.C., and we’re focused on keeping it that way,” said Clark.
“That’s why we’re adding more inspection stations, extending hours and staff, and (adding) Canada’s first multi-purpose, mussel-sniffing dog—to protect our most precious resource, our waterways.”
The dog, 15-month-old German Shepherd Kilo, is half way through his six-month training and will be on the job by the beginning of July, said his handler Staff Sgt. Josh Lockwood, head of the Conservation Service’s K-9 Unit.
On Thursday, Clark presented Kilo with his collar and badge, making him a canine conservation officer.
Clark said in addition to the existing eight inspection stations now up and running, two new ones will be added, at Yahk and Midway in the Kootenays.
B.C.’s busiest inspection station at Golden on the B.C.-Alberta boarder will be be open 24 hours per day and the other nine inspection stations will have their hours extended, generally from dawn to dusk. However actual opening and closing times will vary to help ensure compliance. The inspection operating season will now run from April 1 to the end of October.
In B.C., it is illegal bring a boat into the province without having it inspected and it is also illegal to launch a boat that has not been inspected. Anyone caught doing so faces a $345 fine. If a boat is found to have live or dead mussels on it, the owner could face a fine up to $50,000.
Clark said the potential damage the introduction of quagga and zebra mussels could cause if they establish themselves in local lakes could cost as much as $43 million a year to deal with.
To support the new stations and extended hours, the province is also adding 35 inspection officers to the program, bringing the total to 68 auxiliary conservation officers.
It is also giving the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation $150,000 per year for the next three years to expand the government’s ongoing invasive mussel lake monitoring to detect potential invasive mussel larvae.
This will help build capacity for local stewardship groups to become involved in early detection; a critical first step in preventing invasive mussels from becoming established.
But Clark said what is critical is that the public also get involved and not just by learning about the dangers of the introduction of invasive mussel here and keeping their own boats, as well as other watercraft and water equipment, clean but by being vigilant about what they see.
She implored the public to report boats that launch without being inspected, or boats out on the water that do not have stickers on them showing they have been inspected, to report them.
“All of B.C. needs to do everything we can to stop the spread of invasive species,” said Clark.
The province is also unleashing Kilo, what it calls it’s new, and unique, weapon in the fight invasive mussels.
He will work with his handler at high volume stations on a rotating basis to help detect mussels.
The new funding for the fight to keep zebra and quagga mussels out of B.C. brings the total program funding to $4.5 million annually, with partner funding from BC Hydro, Columbia Power, Fortis BC, and Columbia Basin Trust.
Tracy Gray, chairwoman of the Okanagan Basin Water Board praised Clark’s announcement, saying it was what her board has been asking for since 2012.
“We are very happy with the announcement today,” she said.
The NDP’s Shelly Cook, Clark’s opponent in Westside-Kelowna (to be remaned Kelowna West for the upcoming election), said while the new funding for expanding the fight against the introuction of invassive mussel into B.C. is welcome, it’s long overdue.
She accused the Liberal government of “virtualy ignoring” the threat of invassive mussels for the last four years despite the existance of inspection stations, inspectors and provincial laws requiring the inspection of boats entering B.C.
While the mussels have not yet been detected B.C. lakes and waterways, 17 boats were caught at the borders with them last year and turned away, just a few of thousands of boats checked in 2016, said Clark.
The destructive mussels have infested a number of lakes in Western U.S states as well as in Manitoba. Zebra and quagga mussels can significantly affect food for fish in lakes and streams, resulting in the collapse of native fish populations including sockeye salmon.
They can also clog pipes and water systems and can ultimately affect municipal and industrial water supplies.
And they can also destroy beaches, which could have a devastating impact on the local tourism industry.