By Stephanie Labbe
Southern Alberta Newspapers
On Nov. 23, invasive mussel veligers, also known as larvae, were found in the Milk River System below the Fresno reservoir, less than 100 kilometres from the Alberta border.
Since the detection, the national Park Service in the U.S. has closed all waters in Glacier National Park until further notice. There has been no confirmation of adult mussels, but the investigation is still ongoing.
Shannon Frank, executive director for the Oldman Watershed Council, says the Government of Alberta has done and exceptional job of responding quickly to this detection.
“The Government of Alberta has done a great job setting up and implementing the program quickly and continues to resource it, so this is good news,” says Frank. “The ongoing challenge … is getting the message out to every boater in Alberta — quite a big task. Check stops are not open 24/7 and some people do not stop even when they are open. Media attention and social media are helping spread the word to clean, drain and dry and we all need to keep reminding people.”
Throughout the winter, the most important thing people can do is to keep raising awareness about the issue with their family, friends and colleagues.
“People can share information on their social media pages, hand out brochures and talk about it,” adds Frank about how people can help throughout the winter.
As well, people can volunteer to monitor a lake. Frank says it’s simple and anyone can do it.
To help prevent the mussels from entering Alberta, there are currently mandatory boat inspection stations at major highway crossings where people need to stop and ensure they are not contaminated.
“If there is a need, then boats and equipment can be decontaminated with hot water. Sniffer dogs are also travelling around checking boats at boat launches and are bale to sniff out the mussels quickly,” adds Frank.
As well, Frank says boat inspection stations are set up in other provinces and states and there is open collaboration with neighbours in Canada and the U.S. to manage this issue.
These mussels are extremely difficult to remove once they appear, because it is difficult to identify every place they exist until it is too late.
“Manitoba had good success with adding potash to Lake Winnipeg at first, but if even one gets in they quickly proliferate into thousands and hundreds of thousands. Complete removal is not likely … it is more about managing them as best we can if they get in. Prevention is by far the best option,” says Frank.
Concerns about the mussels are economic, social and environmental.
“The costs to water infrastructure would be in the millions each year. They clog pipes and would be devastating to our irrigation system, water treatment plants, wastewater treatment plants,” adds Frank.
Also, the mussels end up littering beaches with their sharp shells and attach to everything in the water, including boats and docks.
“Over time, the environmental damage is enormous. Mussels eventually change the entire ecosystem, because they are … filter feeders and the impact of so many of them filter feeding is huge. They filter out plankton and algae, which is food for other species, altering the food chain. This filtering increases water clarity and allows more light to penetrate into the water, further altering the ecosystem.”
Frank says it’s important to know the mussels don’t filter out cyanobacteria, the kind that causes toxic algae blooms. As their feces breaks down, it consumes oxygen and creates toxic byproducts, causing further ecosystem damage.