Provincial mussels strategy draws criticism

Juliette Cunningham says funding is insufficient to deal with invasive species

Victoria’s plan to fight invasive mussels doesn’t impress one local official.

The provincial government will provide $1.3 million over two years for early detection and rapid response for quagga and zebra mussels.

“It wasn’t what we put forward,” said Juliette Cunningham, a Vernon councillor and Okanagan Basin Water Board director.

“We were looking for actual border stations but it’s a start.”

The invasive mussel defence program includes three mobile decontamination units, six trained auxiliary conservation officers, highway signage throughout the province, expanded monitoring for zebra and quagga mussels and increasing public awareness.

Teams will inspect boats entering B.C. from Alberta and if needed, decontaminate them to ensure mussels aren’t brought into the province.

They also will  respond to boats from the U.S. identified as a concern by the  Canadian Border Services Agency, as well as agencies.

But Cunningham doesn’t believe the provincial government’s efforts are sufficient.

“Alberta is doing a tremendous amount of work and I hope they’re not just hoping that will be our buffer zone,” she said.

Zebra and quagga mussels are native to eastern Europe and they have spread across North America since the 1980s.

They clog water intake pipes, pumps and boat motors.

They also deplete food sources for fish and produce toxins that kill fish and birds and contaminate drinking water.

Mike Macnabb, BX-Silver Star director, says communities will have to spend large sums of dollars to prevent mussels from damaging water pipes and other infrastructure if they move into the valley.

“They (Victoria) are off-loading that cost on to local governments,” he said.

“With the provincial government, it’s almost a token what they are throwing at it.”

The Okanagan Basin Water Board has estimated the direct cost and lost revenue if the mussels take hold in the Okanagan Valley is about $42 million annually.