BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Mussels keep marching

The Okanagan could be next after mussel larvae was found in Montana

Richard Rolke is a columnist and senior reporter with The Morning Star

Perimeter defences have been breached.

Now that may sound like the latest ramblings from the president-elect across the line, but it’s a far more serious situation that could ultimately have significant implications for the Okanagan.

Recently, invasive mussel larvae were found in Montana, in the Tiber and Canyon Ferry reservoirs and the Milk and Missouri rivers.

It’s the first time invasive mussels have been discovered in the Northwest.

“It’s alarming,” Coun. Juliette Cunningham told her Vernon colleagues Monday.

And that’s not an overreaction given the rapid spread of quagga and zebra mussels across North America.

They first arrived from eastern Europe in the ballast water of giant ships in the 1980s. They soon conquered all of the Great Lakes and moved into the Mississippi River basin and the St. Lawrence River.

Devastation has been caused in Lake Winnipeg while they appeared in Nevada’s Lake Mead in 2007.

“Subsequent surveys found smaller numbers of quagga mussels in Lakes Mohave and Havasu in the Colorado River, and in the Colorado River aqueduct system which serves Southern California,” states California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“All reservoirs, lakes and watersheds receiving raw Colorado River water have been exposed to quagga mussels. The first confirmed find of zebra mussels in California occurred at San Justo Reservoir Jan. 10, 2008.”

Lake Mead has changed forever.

“Adult mussels colonize water intakes, marina structures, and navigation aids requiring expensive defouling and repair,” states the U.S. National Parks Service.

“Shells of dead mussels are hazardous to people on beaches, and larval mussels are drawn into boat engines and bilges where they grow into adults and clog recreational equipment. Mussels feed by continuously filtering water for plankton, and the tremendous filtering capacity of large colonies of mussels can deprive other aquatic species of resources necessary for survival.”

Sounding more and more like an old B horror movie, life as we know it could change in the Okanagan even if just a few of these mussels show up in a boat.

And unfortunately, it could be just a matter of time despite the defence systems thrown in place by the provincial government.

“There are a lot of holes in (border) inspection. They are only open until 10 p.m. in the summer,” said Cunningham.

She also fears that people travelling from infected areas will avoid the stations because they don’t want their boats impounded.

“It’s devastating. They reproduce so quickly, it’s shocking. We’re not taking this seriously enough.”

The Okanagan Basin Water Board has called for inspection stations to expand their hours, and for tough rules requiring all watercraft entering B.C. to report to an inspection centre before launching in the water.

According to the Flathead Beacon, it’s not known yet if a “full adult population of mussels has been established,” in Montana. But given that a portion of Big Sky Country rests under southeastern B.C., these invaders are as close to us as they have ever been.

Let’s hope that the provincial government is monitoring the situation in Montana, and that local MLAs Eric Foster, Greg Kyllo and Norm Letnick are pressuring Premier Christy Clark, who represents the North Westside, to be more vigilant.

Yes inspections cost money, but when it comes to the social and economic future of the Okanagan, we can’t afford not to act.