Kelowna, B.C.  As boating season quickly approaches and COVID-19 travel restrictions ease, the Okanagan Basin Water Board is calling on the province to bolster its Invasive Mussel Defence Program (IMDP) in preparation for what is expected to be a busy tourist season. Today, the local government agency sent a letter to B.C.’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change, George Heyman, with a list of six calls to action.

“Since 2015, the IMDP has prevented 137 infested watercraft from entering provincial waters by conducting more than 220,000 inspections. Many of the infested watercraft were headed to high-risk Okanagan waters. Still, gaps remain in prevention,” the letter reads.

For one, there are still motorists with watercraft who are failing to stop at mandatory, open inspection stations. Given that inspectors snagged 17 zebra and/or quagga mussel-fouled watercraft this summer during times when the stations were open, it raises the question as to how many more come in outside of inspection hours.

Also, a review of last summer’s provincial mussel inspection numbers indicates that, for the second year in a row, the Okanagan is the top destination for these watercraft. This year, eight of the 17 infested watercraft were headed to our valley.

“If we are B.C.’s #1 destination for incoming mussel-infested watercraft, and we are encouraging tourism, we need to be better prepared,” explains Sue McKortoff, Chair of the Water Board (OBWB) and Mayor of the border-town of Osoyoos.

Watercraft purchases have increased in the last couple of years, on both sides of the border, as people were staying closer to home. Now with the border opening up, it’s expected more people will be coming with their water toys, increasing the chances of invasive mussels being introduced to B.C. waters.

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The OBWB’s six recommendations include:

1. Maintain IMDP core program funding at 2021 levels of minimum $3.5 million per year, adjusted for inflation going forward.

2. Introduce “pull-the-plug” legislation, requiring all watercraft to remove drain plugs prior to travelling on B.C. roads.

3. Review and update B.C.’s 2014 Early Detection, Rapid Response (EDRR) Plan for invasive mussels, and provide a window for public consultation prior to final publishing.

4. Provide toolkits and resources for local governments to conduct vulnerability assessments and put in place mitigation measures like retrofitting in-water infrastructure.

5. Introduce legislation to require all out-of-province watercraft to be inspected prior to being launched in B.C. waters.

6. Provide additional funding to invasive species groups in high-risk regions for monitoring, outreach and education.

“A 2013 OBWB study found the cost of an infestation to our region would be at least $42 mill. annually to manage,” the OBWB letter states. “As such, we remain committed to protecting B.C. waters and supporting provincial efforts. This commitment has included delivery of our ‘Don’t Move A Mussel’ campaign, promoting the clean, drain, dry message, and valued at more than $996,000 to date, and another $266,000 in funding over that time provided to the Okanagan and Similkameen Invasive Species Society to conduct direct boater outreach and more.”

“If invasive mussels arrived here, it’s not just people who drive boats who will be affected. It will affect everyone,” cautioned McKortoff. The mussels will become a recurring maintenance expense for in-lake infrastructure such as water lines, docks, and bridges. They will affect water quality and harm aquatic ecosystems. Plus, when the mussels were introduced to Lake Winnipeg, it took only two years for the molluscs to reproduce in such numbers that beaches became foul-smelling and un-walkable, she added. “Can you imagine not taking your kids or grandkids to the beach in summer?”

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