While Okanagan Lake and other lakes in the region do not have infestations of zebra mussels and quagga mussels at present, members of the Okanagan Basin Water Board are making plans to cope with an infestation in the future.
“As far as we know, we do not have the mussels,” said Corinne Jackson, communications director for the water board. “Trying to deal with them after we have them will be difficult if not impossible.”
Speaking at a recent board meeting, Renata Claudi, an environmental scientist with more than 25 years of experience, said the mussels can have significant effects, but there are measures to control them once they are in a body of water.
In the Great Lakes, invasive mussels have been an ongoing problem for many years. Manitoba is also dealing with mussels.
Claudi said preventative measures are needed, since dealing with mussels in a lake is much more difficult than keeping them out.
Heather Larrat, an aquatic consultant, compared mussels in lakes to mountain pine beetles in forests.
In the Okanagan, Wood Lake and Kalamalka Lake are most vulnerable to a mussel infestation, but mussels could also appear in other lakes as well.
“The answer is to keep them out,” she said. “We need to look at how to respond before it happens.”
The water board has been presenting a message of clean, drain and dry, urging boaters to ensure they are not transporting mussels into British Columbia lakes.
“Boating is, without a shadow of a doubt, the number one vector,” Claudi said. Buckets, especially buckets with live bait, are the second most common way the mussels are introduced to a body of water.
Jackson said the cost of controlling mussels once they are in a lake can be significant.
She said the estimated cost of managing mussels in Okanagan Lake would be $42 million a year.
“There’s no way to get rid of them effectively in the Okanagan,” she added. “We need to keep them out.”
Mussels would create toxic algae blooms in drinking water, which would also cause problems for any other animals consuming the water. They would ruin beaches with sharp shells and the stench. Mussels would also devastate the fishery.
Jackson said the lake is important for irrigation, tourism, domestic water and more.
“We just can’t afford to have these enter our water,” she said.
The water board is urging people to clean, drain and dry their boats, paddleboards, canoes and kayaks.
Mussels can live for 30 days out of water if they are in a damp environment, she said.
The water board has been examining the risk of invasive mussels since 2012. A website with information on invasive mussels can be found at http://www.dontmoveamussel.ca/home.