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Taking action to protect lakes and waterways from aquatic invasive species

Posted on April 4, 2024 by Vauxhall Advance

Government of Alberta

Currently, Alberta is 100 per cent free of zebra and quagga mussels. However, increased detections in Idaho and Manitoba last year are increasing the risk of invasive mussels being introduced into the province.

Alberta’s government is stepping up its defences. The province is increasing the number of watercraft inspection stations, adding more dedicated watercraft inspectors, and setting up a new task force on aquatic invasive species. Alberta is also calling on the federal government to conduct mandatory inspections at the United States border.

“These invasive species pose a real and costly threat to other species living in our lakes and rivers, as well as to the water and irrigation infrastructure that we depend on for our economy and for drought and flood protection. We are stepping up to defend Alberta’s borders from these dangerous invasive species,” said Rebecca Schulz, Minister of Environment and Protected Areas.

With growing concerns across Alberta, Canada and the United States, Alberta’s government is also developing a new aquatic invasive species task force, which will be led by Taber-Warner MLA Grant Hunter. The task force will work with partners to discuss critical topics like how to improve border protections, ways to strengthen the province’s rules and programs, and whether stronger penalties, restrictions or other approaches are needed.

“Alberta cannot let down its guard. With invasive mussels and other species rising in nearby provinces and states, we must increase our inspection and detection programs,” said Taber-Warner MLA Grant Hunter. “By improving protections today, we can protect Alberta from the massive impacts that these invasive species can have on our province. A big shout out to the Premier for her tireless advocacy on this issue.”

Zebra and quagga mussels and other aquatic invasive species can be easily introduced by boats and other watercraft moving across borders. If established inside Alberta’s borders, they could wreak havoc, threatening ecosystems and costing more than $75 million annually in damages to irrigation infrastructure, according to recent estimates.

Alberta’s government is investing $2.5 million to increase watercraft inspection and decontamination. We will increase the number of fixed watercraft inspection stations from five to seven this year, and a new roving inspection crew will criss-cross the province to follow-up on notices from the Canadian Border Service Agency and increase inspections at high traffic locations and events. The goal is to add four more stations in 2025.

Alberta will also add an additional dog and handler team to the invasive species K-9 inspection unit. Alberta Environment and Protected Areas will invest $400,000 to expand its K-9 unit to three dog and handler teams and collaborate with the team in Alberta Agriculture and Irrigation on high-priority projects such as invasive species detection.

“These additional investments are great news for our watersheds, and will help protect the environment and economy from these serious threats on our doorstep. Aquatic invaders would seriously damage our natural ecosystems and these proactive steps will help prevent them from reaching Alberta,” said Shannon Frank, executive director, Oldman Watershed Council.

“Introducing zebra and quagga mussels into Alberta’s irrigation conveyance infrastructure will result in significant treatment costs to manage mussel populations. Total eradication from reservoirs and other waterbodies will be impossible. The Alberta Irrigation Districts Association is pleased to see increased investment by the Alberta government to expand key prevention activities to protect irrigation and other water management infrastructure from the introduction of aquatic invasive species,” said Alex Ostrop, Chair, Alberta Irrigation Districts Association.

While Alberta is stepping up, international border control is a federal responsibility. On March 25, Minister Schulz wrote to Diane Lebouthillier, federal Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, calling for the Canada Border Services Agency to conduct mandatory inspections and decontaminations on all watercraft entering Canada from the United States. Mandatory inspections are necessary to prevent these invasive mussels from entering Alberta and other provinces.

• Once introduced to a waterbody, zebra and quagga mussels are extremely difficult to eradicate and can cause millions of dollars in damage to water-operated infrastructure and harm aquatic ecosystems.

• There were significant new detections of invasive mussels in Idaho and Manitoba in 2023.

• Parks Canada recently announced that it is closing all bodies of water in BC’s Kootenay and Yoho national parks, and restricting watercraft in Alberta’s Waterton Lakes National Park to slow the spread of invasive species.

• Kelowna’s Okanagan-Interior Invasive Mussel Working Group recently formed to address the issue in B.C.

• In 2023, Alberta inspected 8,818 boats, 19 of which were confirmed positive for invasive mussels.

 – 17 of the boats were coming from Canadian provinces to the east, namely Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba.

 – Two of the boats were coming from U.S. states in the Great Lakes region, namely Michigan and Minnesota.

 – 11 of the boats were ultimately heading to final locations in B.C., seven for destinations within Alberta and one for Alaska.

• Watercraft inspections have been mandatory in Alberta since 2015. To minimize risk of moving species among waterbodies, it is illegal to transport a watercraft with the drain plug still in place.

• The Aquatic Invasive Species Watercraft Inspections and Decontamination Program:

 – Will operate seven fixed inspection stations and one roving crew during the 2024 boating season.

 – Will increase the number of dedicated watercraft inspectors to 50, from 35 last year.

 – Will begin opening stations in April as seasonal staff are hired and onboarded. All stations will be open for May long weekend through the September long weekend, with many extending beyond this period.

• All passing watercraft, including non-motorized, commercially-hauled and privately-hauled watercraft, must stop at inspection stations every time, regardless of where they are travelling to or from.

• The Fisheries (Alberta) Act lists 52 prohibited aquatic invasive species including fish, plants and invertebrates, as well as has the associated powers for inspection and quarantine when required.

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