BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Sitting on their hands

While federal and provincial officials continue to have their heads buried in the sand, the invaders are getting ever closer to the Okanagan

While federal and provincial officials continue to have their heads buried in the sand, the invaders are getting ever closer to the Okanagan.

The Okanagan Basin Water Board, which has been fighting hard to keep non-indigenous quagga and zebra mussels out of local lakes, has learned that the species is now next door in Alberta.

So far this year, inspectors have intercepted eight mussel-infected boats, all headed for the Calgary and Edmonton areas.

All of this is known is because Alberta has shown leadership and established inspection stations on four major routes entering that province along its southern and eastern borders. It’s something the B.C. government has refused to do.

“Action by our province is not dependent on the federal government acting,” said Doug Findlater, OBWB chairperson, referring to failed attempts to have Ottawa adopt legislation allowing border agents to inspect boats coming into Canada.

“Alberta didn’t wait for the federal legislation. They moved quickly to protect their lakes and we should do the same.  They get it. It’s a serious threat and they’ve invested money in helping protect themselves. B.C. needs to do the same.”

And while money is tight, inspection stations doesn’t have to cost a dime. OBWB has suggested that a boater-pay sticker program, as occurs across the U.S., is a viable source of revenue.

While politicians and bureaucrats sit on their hands, the mussels continue their march since being introduced to North America from Europe in the 1980s.

Consider that one female mussel can produce a million offspring a year. As a result, they have devastated lakes in Nevada and authorities are trying a range of control measures in Lake Winnipeg.

They clog water intake pipes, pumps and boat motors, while depleting food sources for fish and producing toxins that kill fish and birds and contaminate drinking water.

Tourism and recreational properties in the Okanagan could be left high and dry because beaches could be covered with razor-sharp shells.

“Our research indicates the cost could be more than $43 million a year to just manage this problem,” said Findlater.

Given the eight mussel-infected boats found entering Alberta, it’s just a matter of time that a vessel slips across B.C.’s eastern or southern borders and turns Okanagan or Kalamalka lakes into ground zero.

OBWB officials are clearly frustrated with being ignored by their provincial and federal counterparts.

“We have been sounding the alarm for two years now, warning of the threat invasive zebra and quagga mussels pose to the Okanagan and elsewhere,” said Findlater.

“While public response has been positive, and local electeds have taken notice, there’s still no concrete movement on the file.”

And one has to wonder why Okanagan MLAs and MPs, including B.C.’s premier, are not leading the charge. They all understand how important lakes are to the region socially and economically, and yet they are noticeably silent. Yes, preventative measures come with a price, but trying to close the barn door once its open will be even more costly.

OBWB is demanding a meeting with Environment Minister Mary Pollack during the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in September, and while the lobbying obviously needs to continue, it’s abundantly clear that senior government does not consider the Okanagan a priority. If it was, action would have been taken long ago.

In the end, this entire situation takes me back to ancient history and particularly the story of Nero playing his fiddle while Rome burned around him.