Okanagan Basin Water Board

Canada - Invasive mussels could cost BC economy $129M annually if they take hold in province

Vernon is being asked to throw its support behind a call to action over invasive mussels. The Okanagan Basin Water Board is seeking the city's support in calling on senior governments for immediate action to prevent the introduction of invasive zebra and quagga mussels into B.C. waters.

"If senior governments fail to act, local governments and First Nations in B.C. will bear the brunt of managing and paying for the costs of invasive mussel mitigation," water board executive director Anna Warwick Sears says in a letter to council.

Concern is higher than usual as Idaho announced in September that quagga mussels had been found in the Snake River, a tributary to the Columbia River.

The location of the discovery at Twin Falls is less than an 11-hour drive from the B.C. border.

The rapidly spreading species are expected to cost the province more than $129 million annually should they take hold, based on costs for infrastructure, maintenance for boats and marinas, lost profits and provincial revenue and loss in residential property values and lost property taxes.

"These costs do not include the devastating effects on fish – especially Pacific salmon, and aquatic ecosystems in general. Invasive mussels can create toxic algae blooms, litter beaches with razor-sharp shells, clog water intakes and boat motors, and corrode concrete and metal in the water. In the Great Lakes region, invasive mussels have cost more than $500 million per year just to manage the effects," says Warwick Sears.

In response to the mussel detection in Idaho, state officials released more than 116,000 litres of a copper-based pesticide into a 26-kilometre stretch of the Snake River, killing invertebrates, algae, plants, and fish.

That will be followed up with another chemical treatment and a biocontrol treatment.

"It is possible that mussels have already escaped the containment area, and if so, they will spread through the Columbia Basin over the next several years," says Warwick Sears.

The OBWB is seeking a temporary moratorium on out-of-province watercraft entering B.C., 'pull-the-plug' legislation to be in effect prior to the 2024 boating season, inspections on all watercraft entering Canada, $4 million in funding for the Invasive Mussel Defence Program, and more.

Since 2012, the water board has run the Don’t Move A Mussel public awareness campaign, including the message to boaters to clean, drain, and dry their watercraft before launching in B.C. waters.

Its analysis shows that the Okanagan's most popular lakes – Okanagan and Kalamalka – are expected to experience a more severe infestation than higher mountain lakes and reservoirs if the mussels spread.

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