Invasive mussels can cause heavy ecological and economic damage
Not only does Alberta strive to be rat-free, the province is also trying to stay mussels-free, the zebra and quagga species in particular.
Provincial officials say allowing these aquatic species to ever settle here would be a mistake — a multi-million dollar mistake.
"We have done economic assessments and we believe that if we do nothing, and they (mussels) became established in Alberta, we would lose about $75 million annually," says Kate Wilson, the aquatic invasive species program co-ordinator at Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development.
An online report, created by Wilson, details the $75-million annual cost of an invasive mussel infestation:
• Power generation: $5,938,487
• Drinking water systems: $20,839,921
• Boat maintenance: $390,600
• Recreational fishing: $21,830,892
• Water management structures: $8,841,373
• Water diversion intakes: $3,910,000
• Property value: $13,789,500
The reason invasive mussels are an economically damaging species is because of their ability to stick to things.
"Irrigation districts are major stakeholders in this issue because if we were to have an infestation that affected them they would have to potentially shut down operations, clean out their pipes and replace pipes," Wilson says.
Quagga and zebra mussels are also ecologically destructive because they are filter feeders. These species have the ability to remove nutrients in any body of water they enter, and as a result make the water sterile so fish have no food to eat.
"It is interesting that in the last couple of years people have realized that mussels are 'discriminate feeders,'" Wilson says. "They can ingest all these nutrients and excrete the bad ones including blue-green algae, which contributes to toxic algae blooms. We already have a problem with toxic algae blooms in Alberta."
Within the last year, Alberta has had eight close calls with mussel-infected boats almost entering the province. During summer and winter, Albertans take their boats to popular southwest U.S. lakes, including Lake Mead near Las Vegas, Lake Pleasant near Phoenix, and Lake Powell in Utah. Canadians also buy boats from the United States that may be filled with mussels.
Fortunately, the states of Wyoming, Montana, Washington, Idaho and Oregon have stringent regulations forcing boaters to stop at water inspection stations when entering or leaving to check and see if mussels are attached. The work done at these stations has helped Alberta remain mussel-free up to now.
The province is also taking action in a five-pronged approach:
• Inspections for mussels are taking place on major highways along the eastern and southern border.
• Monitor up to 70 bodies of water for mussels and will conduct different forms of water sampling
• A protocol has been formulated so that when an infected boat is found a quick response can include cleaning the boat with hot water to remove mussels. There is also a hotline, 1-855-336-BOAT (2628), for people to call in case they fear mussels are attached to their boats.
• A campaign called "Clean, Drain, Dry Your Boat" is starting this month.
• It is illegal to transport zebra and quagga mussels in the province. Any fishery officer can request a boat inspection and cleaning to take place.
The province is amplifying its efforts partially due to the fact zebra mussels were found in four Lake Winnipeg harbours in October 2013.
The Manitoba government is attempting to remove the mussels using liquid potash. The four harbours will remain closed until this project is completed sometime in the middle of this month.
"The mussels have not been established in the province long enough yet to cause real damage so we have an opportunity to combat this problem," says Rob Nedotiafko, co-ordinator of Lake Winnipeg's zebra mussel treatment and control project.
British Columbia is also a boating destination for Albertans and while the province has remained mussel-free, there have been close calls.
"There was an infested boat in 2012 that was reported," said Gail Wallin, executive director of B.C.'s invasive species council in an email. "The provincial government, federal government and invasive species council worked hard to detain, inspect and clean the boat."
Wilson, from Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, says being aware of the problem makes a huge difference in mussels being kept out of Alberta.
"I believe that this issue is 90 per cent solvable through education. If people understand the issue, and what they can do to prevent the spread of aquatic invasives, that will get us largely where we want to be."
- By QUINTON AMUNDSON