Okanagan Water Board report shows high risk of infestation for invasive mussels

Infestation risk 'high'

A war chest of at least $40 million will be needed to battle invasive mussels in this province over the next ten years.

In a report prepared for the Okanagan Basin Water Board’s August 1 meeting, deputy administrator James Littley recommends “a renewed call to action,” from the province, noting funding and staffing for the Invasive Mussel Defence Program (IMDP) have diminished.

Since 2019, the number of inspectors and inspection stations have been cut in half.

“It is not surprising that the number of inspections dropped to 20,100 in 2022 compared to 52,000 in 2019, a 61% drop,” Littley writes.

These reductions have happened despite the province pegging the economic impact of a invasive mussels infestation at between $64 to $129 million.

The province has so far been able to keep Zebra and Quagga mussels out of B.C. waters through a combo of check points and public eduction, but they are in many surrounding states and provinces.

Presence of the mussels impact water chemistry, putting source water at risk, as well as causing buildup on infrastructure like water intakes.

OBWB hired Larratt Aquatic Consultants to analyze the existing water quality database against criteria used in determining levels of infestation by invasive mussels. Larratt produced a map showing the expected level of mussel infestation by water body where water chemistry data was available. Most of Okanagan Lake is at risk of "high level of infestation."

Littley is recommending “stable, sufficient, and long-term funding,” for the the mussel defence program to be successful.

If Littley’s recommendations are accepted, the OBWB will be calling on government for:

  • Commitment of no less than $4 million (+inflation) per year for at least 10 years
  • Support to recruit and retain provincial Auxiliary Conservation Officers and other staff as needed to 2019 levels of 64 inspectors annually to ensure sufficient staffing for the program.
  • Commit to introducing “pull-the-plug” legislation to be in effect prior to the 2024 boating season.
  • Introduce a provincially-led process to create long-term response, containment and control plans in regions at high risk of introduction from water-based tourism, and high risk of infestation from water chemistry, including the Okanagan, Shuswap and Kootenay Regions, working with regional partners.

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