Water Board issued updated calls to action on invasive mussels as province snags mussel-infested watercraft

August 16, 2023

Kelowna, B.C. – Syilx Territory – As mussel-infested watercraft continue to make their way towards the Okanagan and other water-related destinations this summer, the Okanagan Basin Water Board (OBWB) has issued a letter to the B.C. Government with several calls to action.

“While B.C. provincial staff and Conservation Officers continue to do very good work through the Invasive Mussel Defence Program (IMDP) with the limited resources they have, serious gaps remain. Rather than reinforcing the program, the budget has been severely cut in recent years, representing a significant risk to much of the province, including the Okanagan,” the letter begins, noting “a 61% reduction in the number of watercraft inspected” from 2019 to 2022. The letter is directed to B.C. Minister Water, Land and Resource Stewardship Nathan Cullen, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy George Heyman, Minister of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation Josie Osborne, the Parliamentary Secretaries for Fisheries and Aquaculture MLA Kelly Greene and Watershed Restoration MLA Fin Donnelly.

And most recent stats for this summer, show that between April and July 14, 2023, the IMDP has intercepted 80 high risk watercraft on their way into B.C. Of these, eight were confirmed to have adult invasive mussels and three were headed to the Okanagan. (The other five were destined for the Thompson- Nicola [1], Lower Mainland [2], and unconfirmed destinations [2].)

“Frankly, I’m very disturbed. Once again we are the top destination of mussel-infested watercraft,” OBWB Exec. Dir. Anna Warwick Sears said.

The letter to the province includes the following calls to action:

  1. Commit funding to the IMDP of no less than $4 million per year (all sources), indexed to inflation for at least 10 years.
  2. Enhance support to recruit and retain B.C. Conservation Officers, Auxiliary Conservation Officers, and other staff as needed to 2019 levels (64 inspectors) to ensure sufficient staffing for the IMDP.
  3. Commit to introducing “pull-the-plug” legislation to be in effect prior to the 2024 boating season.
  4. Update the provincial Early Detection, Rapid Response plan (EDRR), including a round of consultation with partner organizations prior to finalization.
  5. Lead a planning process with regional partners to create long-term response, containment, and control plans in regions at high risk of introduction and vulnerable to infestation, including the Okanagan, Shuswap, and Kootenay Regions.

Also, the OBWB questions the ministerial mandates related to the invasive mussel issue. B.C.’s IMDP is now under the jurisdiction of the B.C. Minister of Water, Land, and Resource Stewardship. However, given the expected impacts of these mussels on the province’s environment and ecosystems, and impacts on water quality, the OBWB is requesting that B.C. Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy remain involved in the planning and prevention of invasive mussels and potential mitigation of harm. In addition, it recommends that the B.C. Minister of Energy, Mines, and Low Carbon Innovation engage on the file given the increasing importance of invasive mussel prevention for B.C. Hydro and other power producers.

The OBWB remains committed to doing what it can to prevent an infestation, the letter states. In particular, the Water Board, at its own cost, is developing a mussel vulnerability guide for local governments, water purveyors, and other industrial users that rely on in-water infrastructure. The Water Board’s Okanagan WaterWise program also continues to provide public education and outreach through its “Don’t Move A Mussel” campaign, with contributions valued at over $1 million to date, and has provided more than $400,000 in funding to the Okanagan and Similkameen Invasive Species Society to conduct direct boater outreach.

“Preventing invasive mussels is a top priority of the Water Board, and our member communities. Every year that goes by, the risk increases. We cannot let down our guard or we risk losing the best of what we love about the Okanagan – our beautiful clean water,” added Sears. “The Province of B.C. says that this is a priority issue for them, but they have not been budgeting like it is a priority. This has to change.”

Please find below, the OBWB’s letter to the province.

For more information on zebra and quagga mussels, the risks to the Okanagan, and how to prevent their spread, please visit www.DontMoveAMussel.ca.

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