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B.C. leads the fight against invasive mussels

By Contributor
April 1st, 2015

The Province is expanding its fight against invasive mussels with a $1.3-million boost toward early detection and rapid response. 

Although these invasive species have never been detected in British Columbia, this program expansion increases protection of B.C.’s lakes and rivers against the threat of quagga and zebra mussels.

“This is a major step in our ongoing efforts to keep the provinces’ ecosystems, hydro stations, drinking water facilities and salmon populations safe,” said Mary Polak, Minister of Environment.

“It also provides specialized training and summer employment to university students specializing in environmental compliance.”

The strengthened invasive mussel defence program begins operations in April for the 2015 boating season and consists of:

  • Three mobile decontamination units.
  • Six trained auxiliary conservation officers.
  • Highway signage throughout the province.
  • Expanded monitoring for zebra and quagga mussels.
  • Report All Poachers or Polluters response line coverage.
  • Increasing “Clean, Drain, Dry” education and outreach activities.

Through this program, teams will inspect and, if necessary, decontaminate boats entering B.C. from Alberta. They also will respond to boats from the U.S. identified as a concern by the Canadian Border Services Agency, as well as U.S. partner agencies. Each crew will be equipped with mobile self-contained decontamination units.

The teams will consist of trained auxiliary conservation officers coming from university compliance training programs offered by Vancouver Island University, providing valuable experience for students and recent graduates.

Twenty-four new highway signs featuring the Clean, Drain, Dry program are also being installed at significant entry points into the province.

Aquatic invasive species, such as zebra and quagga mussels, pose a significant threat to B.C.’s and Canada’s freshwater ecosystems. These mussels threaten native species and fisheries in lakes and rivers.

They clog water intake pipes, leading to increased maintenance costs for hydroelectric, domestic water, industrial, agricultural and recreational facilities.

“Invasive mussels can impact the efficiency of our hydroelectric generating facilities by attaching themselves to surfaces on our dams,” said Chris O’Riley, deputy CEO, BC Hydro.

“This is a big threat, especially to our facilities on the Columbia River, where about 50 percent of the electricity used by British Columbians each year is generated. BC Hydro appreciates the proactive steps being taken by the Province to protect B.C.’s lakes and rivers, and we are proud to be supporting this effort.”

Provincial legislation already in place empowers the program expansion. The Report All Poachers and Polluters (RAPP) line is expanding to receive and co-ordinate reports of mussel threats or incidents.

The Province continues to develop and implement a perimeter defence plan for zebra and quagga mussels with neighbouring jurisdictions, keeping Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, British Columba, Alberta and Saskatchewan free from these invasive species through a coordinated effort.

Quick Facts:

  • Zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha) and quagga mussels (Dreissena rostriformis bugensis) are not native to B.C.
  • Both of these species originate from Europe. They were introduced to Canada (in the Great Lakes region) and the United States in the 1980s, as the result of ballast water being discharged by vessels travelling from Europe.
  • The economic impact of these invasive mussels to hydropower, agricultural irrigation, municipal water supplies and recreational boating has been estimated to be $43 million per year. This estimate does not include additional impacts on commercial and recreational fisheries.
  • Where introduced, these mussels kill native mussels and clams and reduce native fish species by altering the aquatic food web. They also attach to aquatic plants and submerged surfaces, including piers, pilings, water intakes and fish screens.
  • Invasive mussels can colonize on boats and other watercraft (on hulls, engines and steering components), as well as on recreational equipment. Their microscopic larvae also can be spread in any raw water moved between waterbodies. If left unchecked, zebra and quagga mussels can restrict the effectiveness of engine cooling systems and damage boat motors.
  • If large numbers of mussels become established in an area, they can cover hard surfaces and clog pipes.
  • This program also includes in-kind government contributions.

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