Water Board troubled by new provincial report on invasive mussel costs

June 9, 2023

Kelowna, B.C. – As boaters begin to flock to Okanagan lakes and other B.C. waterways, the Okanagan Basin Water Board (OBWB) is sounding the alarm in response to a recent B.C. Government report that suggests a zebra or quagga mussel infestation would cost the province $64 to $129 million annually. And this is not even a full accounting, adds the Water Board.

“We appreciate the level of detail given by your report, looking at the potential financial impacts of invasive mussels on hydro facilities, irrigation infrastructure, municipal water treatment facilities, domestic water intakes, losses in property values and property taxes, tourism, boats and marinas. However, the report does not, and probably could not calculate the terrible impacts these mussels would cause to our natural systems,” states a letter to B.C. Minister Water, Land and Resource Stewardship Nathan Cullen and Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy George Heyman.

“While the board had been waiting to see this updated report for a few years and had anticipated bad news, the research results were deeply troubling,” the letter reads, noting the absence of costs to the local fishery and quality of life. “An economic study cannot quantify the impacts to our children and grandchildren who would grow up missing the experience of playing along the beaches and swimming in the lakes free from piles of razor-sharp mussel shells. It cannot quantify the harm the mussels will cause to the populations of sockeye and Chinook salmon, that are being restored back from the brink of extinction by the efforts of the Okanagan Nation Alliance and their partners. It cannot quantify the losses to the health and environmental quality of our beautiful lake system – also a critical source of drinking water to a growing population.

“What is more, the report cannot qualify the disruption of life caused by the inevitable need to quarantine lakes, the required inspections of all watercraft (not just ones from out of province), or the delays and trouble to the general public – whether boat owners or not. Our international reputation for clean lakes with excellent water quality will be lost. For all these reasons, even given the extremely high financial costs of an invasion to the public and private sectors that your report notes, the true costs will be far higher.”

In speaking to the letter, OBWB Executive Director Anna Warwick Sears said, “The costs of an infestation are appalling on two levels. The first is the gross costs which will make us all poorer. But more importantly, it makes you think about all we value that can’t be qualified. I love the beaches and the clean water, and I don’t want to lose them,” she added.

Working within its mandate, the Water Board first sounded the alarm regarding mussels in 2012 and in 2013 launched its “Don’t Move A Mussel” campaign to raise awareness. It then partnered with the Okanagan and Similkameen Invasive Species Society, providing funds to conduct outreach to watercraft owners, to help spread the message and encourage the use of Clean, Drain, Dry protocols. In 2015, the Government of B.C. started its mussel inspection program and each year since has intercepted mussel- fouled watercraft on their way into B.C.

“The only way a mussel invasion will be prevented is through vigilant action by your ministries. The OBWB has provided many specific calls to action in the past. We are grateful for those you have acted upon, and we encourage you to go further and make this a top priority for both your ministries,” the letter concludes. Please find attached, the OBWB’s letter to the province.

To read the province’s report Potential Economic Impact of Zebra and Quagga Mussels in B.C., visit https://bit.ly/3J3ubT8.

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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