A new predator is on its way to the Columbia Valley, but there is still hope for water enthusiasts.
The Lake Windermere Ambassadors have joined forces with the East Kootenay Invasive Plant Council and the provincial Ministry of the Environment to fight against zebra mussels, an invasive and harmful crustacean.
“It affects drinking water, recreation and biodiversity,” Megan Peloso, program co-ordinator for the Lake Windermere Ambassadors said. “Basically, they attach onto any solid surface and colonize that surface.”
Once zebra mussels are established in a body of water, there is no known environmentally friendly way of eradicating them.
“They took over the Great Lakes region of Eastern Canada and the U.S. and, since then, they have been slowly moving their way west,” Peloso said. “We have not had a scare yet and we are just trying to avoid the situation that other lakes are going
The Columbia Headwaters Community-based Invasive Mussels Prevention Project involves action and education.
Through the program, teams are now on highways in the area performing mandatory boat inspections. Boats with evidence of mussel presence will be decontaminated on site.
Groups like the Lake Windermere Ambassadors are responsible for educating the public about the risks associated with zebra mussels, as well as what to do if mussels are spotted on boats. In addition, there will be more signage on highways in the area informing drivers about the risks.
“We recently got $2,500 worth of funding from the Regional District of East Kootenay and the Columbia Basin Trust so that we can really be a good support in preventing invasive mussels,” Peloso said.
Environmental concerns for zebra mussels include their rate of reproduction and their eating habits. The mussels devour phytoplankton and zooplankton, which other animals rely on for food.
“They are kind of greedy creatures, and they take away vital food from native fish,” Peloso said.
Zebra mussels do not just affect animals under the water in large lakes. Instead, they also make beaches dangerous for swimmers and loungers alike.
“They have a shell that is very fine, small and hard, so it is razor sharp,” Peloso said. “If they are on our beaches or in our waters it will be pretty much impossible to be bare foot.”
The most pressing financial concern created by the mussels is that they attach themselves to drinking water equipment, clogging intake pipes.
“You have to pay someone to take them out regularly, which is quite expensive,” Peloso said. “That price never goes away.”
As the weather heats up and boaters flock to the water, organizations fighting against zebra mussels will become extra attentive. For any questions about the mussels or where to go to get a boat decontaminated, please call the Lake Windermere Ambassadors at 250-341-6898.
To learn more about this serious threat to B.C. water systems, visit dontmoveamussel.ca and bcinvasives.ca/invasive-species/identify/invasive-species/invasive-animals/zebra-and-quagga-mussels/.