Province’s new zebra mussels plan welcomed

Alberta’s plan to step up the defence against zebra mussels is welcomed by Sylvan Lake Mayor Sean McIntyre. Sylvan Lake and Alberta’s other water bodies are free of zebra and quagga mussels, and McIntyre said every effort should be made to keep it that way.

Alberta’s plan to step up the defence against zebra mussels is welcomed by Sylvan Lake Mayor Sean McIntyre.

Sylvan Lake and Alberta’s other water bodies are free of zebra and quagga mussels, and McIntyre said every effort should be made to keep it that way.

The mussels proliferate rapidly once introduced by boats travelling from a contaminated lake to another water body. They clog water intakes, befoul docks and boats, increase algae blooms and generally play havoc with the environment.

Zebra mussels have caused millions of dollars in damage in the Great Lakes and have been found as far west as Lake Winnipeg. In the U.S., the Colorado River basin — a popular spot for Alberta snowbirds — is infected with quagga mussels.

McIntyre said there has been extensive discussion about how to respond to the mussel threat at meetings of the Sylvan Lake Management Committee, which includes representatives from the town, neighbouring counties and five summer villages.

What makes the mussels so dangerous is their hardiness.

“Once they infest a body of water, there has not been a way proven to get them out of there,” he said.

Even Canadian winters don’t kill off the harmful crustaceans.

Given the difficulty — if not impossibility — of getting rid of infestations, prevention is the best defence, he said.

The province’s Clean, Drain, Dry information campaign is a start, but mandatory checks of boats travelling into the province from other lakes will add another layer of defence.

Lacombe County Coun. Keith Stephenson said the municipality hosted an information session at Sunbreaker Cove last summer and plans to be back again this summer.

Given the amount of tourist boat traffic drawn to Sylvan Lake, it is considered at risk for contamination by mussels.

A number of U.S. states to the south and other Western provinces have set up inspection points to try to catch boats carrying invasive species, including plants.

Mandatory inspections are a “great step,” he said. “I know at the provincial level this is a high priority right now.”

With hundreds of boat launches across the province, setting up inspections at all of them would be impractical, if not impossible.

Last summer, voluntary checks were offered at four popular routes into the province. Only about half of the Alberta-bound boat owners stopped at check points, where four boats with live mussels were found.

A washing station with high-pressure hot water was on hand to clean the boats before they moved on.

The new legislation, which could be approved by boating season, also adds a prohibited species list, including aquatic invasive fish, invertebrates and unwanted plants, to the Fisheries Act.

Law enforcement officers will also be given greater authority to deal with contaminated watercraft.

Similar legislation was enacted in Manitoba last December.

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com

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