Okanagan water briefs: B.C. invasive mussel protection efforts find traction

Okanagan Basin Water Board says ongoing mussel interception vigilance remains critical

The propeller of a motorized boat encrusted with invasive mussels. Zebra and Quagga mussels can thrive in tiny crevices and even inside outboard motors, meaning very thorough cleaning is required to prevent their spread. (Contributed)

The public awareness messaging about defending against aquatic invasive mussels species entering B.C. lakes is making headway, says a ministry of environment official.

Dave Webster, in charge of the mussel defence program for the B.C. Conservation Officer Service, says safety compliance appears to be increasing as public awareness continues to grow.

In a staff mussel report update to the Okanagan Basin Water Board, Webster says most who are unaware of the mussel concern seem to have only acquired a watercraft since the beginning of the COVID pandemic, as people were staying closer to home.

Ministry of environment statistics offered the following insights about the 2021 mussel detection campaign:

• There were about 33,000 boat inspections conducted in 2021, up from 29,000 done in 2020 and 52,000 in 2019

• 244 watercraft coming into B.C. were identified as high-risk for invasive zebra or quagga mussels

• 153 watercraft were decontaminated, 100 were given decontamination orders, and 18 were quarantined to meet the required 30-day drying time

• 17 were confirmed carrying the mussels, compared to 16 mussel-fouled vessels intercepted in 2020; 22 in 2019; 25 in 2018 and 25 in 2017

The 27 infested watercraft detected this year came from Ontario (7), Manitoba (2), Quebec (1), Colorado (1), Michigan (1), Missouri (1), Illinois (1), Ohio (1), Wisconsin (1) and Minnesota (1).

The destination breakdown for those watercraft was: Okanagan (8), Lower Mainland (4), Vancouver Island (3), Kootenays (1) and Skeena (1).

In a presentation to the B.C.’s Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services in September, the OBWB advocated for a restoration of mussel inspection funding to at least 2017 levels of $3.8 million per year for the 2022-23 budget, adjusted for inflation moving forward.

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The OBWB is ramping up efforts to distribute printed copies of the three-series education guides Our Relationship with Water in the Okanagan – Explorations in Outdoor Education to Support the B.C. Curriculum into teachers’ hands within the five area school districts.

So far, the guide has received a positive response from the Central Okanagan, Okanagan Skaha and Okanagan Similkameen school districts, with follow-up efforts planned for the Vernon and North Okanagan-Shuswap districts.

The guides are the result of a project five years in the making with the involvement of UBC Okanagan, Central Okanagan School District and Syilx Indigenous elders.

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Another funding request made by the OBWB to the select standing committee was for $1 annually for five years to be earmarked in the provincial budget to fund the review and update of the regulation system infrastructure and operations for Okanagan Lake.

In her report to the OBWB, executive director Anna Warwick Sears says the committee has included this recommendation in budget considerations for the provincial government starting in the 2022-23 fiscal year.

Warwick said the recent floods in the Fraser Valley, Merritt and Princeton have demonstrated the importance of proactive flood prevention measures.

In the last decade, the Okanagan watershed has faced extreme weather changes that have led to both periods of flooding and drought coupled with numerous wildfires, all of which have added to the difficulties of managing conflicting Okanagan Lake water uses while relying on a management model created in the 1970s.

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Organizational planning is continuing for the 2022 Osoyoos Lake Water Science Forum, slated for April 28-30 at the Sonora Centre in Osoyoos.

An international event in scope, the forum will focus on the transboundary waters of Osoyoos Lake and its watershed, hosted in partnership with Osoyoos Indian Band and Okanagan Nation Alliance.

There will be a particular emphasis on bridging Western and Indigenous approaches to water and watershed management.

READ MORE: B.C. content with invasive mussels prevention measures

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