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Boaters beware of mussels

With summer upon us in the Okanagan, the local water board is again calling on residents to be aware and to not move a mussel.

They are also asking residents to participate online by contacting their local MP or MLA and take action against the invasive zebra and quagga mussels.

These creatures can quickly disrupt the fragile eco-systems of local waterways by polluting drinking water, competing with native species for food, and affecting both tourism and property values. They latch on to the vessels of unassuming boaters and unless properly flushed, can be carried from one lake or water source to another.

“The concern for us is now the boats are arriving and we’re trying to do our best to keep those things out of here,” says Corinne Jackson, director of communications at Okanagan Basin Water Board.

She says the board has been pressuring both the provincial and federal governments for the past two years to get inspection stations at the border, but so far little has been done to curb the possible influx.

“It’s a real concern – we’re talking $43 million per year to just manage (the problem) if they get here. Whereas we’re saying if the province just spends $2.4 million per year, we would be able to inspect and potentially prevent this,” she says.

That yearly allowance would be used for the upkeep of 15 stations at a cost of $60,000-$160,000 each per year.

“It would be a lot better than what we have now, which is nothing, other than a campaign from our end. We don’t have the manpower, we don’t have the authority to stop and inspect.”

Next week, the provincial government has proclaimed to be Invasive Species Week from June 9-15. In a release to the media, they hope to raise awareness of the economic and environmental damage that invasive plants and animals can cause if allowed to spread in British Columbia.

But aside from $1.6 million of grant money announced for 29 regional districts, municipalities and organizations last month, little has been done in terms of a long term plan, or a proactive solution.

Since 2012, the province has provided $2.1 million to help prevent aquatic invasive species from entering BC and to support public awareness campaigns and preventative measures, such as the "Clean, Drain, Dry" program for recreational boaters. That same year they amended the controlled alien species regulation to further restrict non-native species.

But that only means invasive zebra or quagga mussels (alive or dead) are not allowed to remain on boats or related equipment, and those that fail to adhere can be slapped with a fine up to $100,000.

The Manitoba government is also currently embroiled in a battle to save their many lakes against the clam-like creatures. The Great Lakes and parts of the US have already been infested by the invasive mussels too.

Manitoba will spend $500,000 to dump liquid potash into the waters until it reaches a lethal concentration for the mussels, clogging their gills. This has never been done before in open water.

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