Keeping province free of invasive mussels

Zebra and quagga mussels could quickly devastate Alberta’s irrigation infrastructure

Quagga mussels were first found in Lake Mead in 2007 and the population is now in the trillions. The lake, located east of Las Vegas, is the largest reservoir in the United States.
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Zebra and quagga mussels are small freshwater, clam-like species that pose a significant threat to Alberta’s waterways and irrigation systems.

“The concern with zebra and quagga mussels is that they multiply very quickly and can attach and accumulate on any submerged surface in the water, and could clog up water-related infrastructure such as irrigation pipelines within a matter of months,” said Nicole Seitz Vermeer, a water research specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry. “They are also filter feeders, which means they can destroy fish habitat by outcompeting native species for food. There is no proven way to completely eradicate the mussels, and they are very difficult to control.”

Invasive mussels are not yet present in Alberta, but are primarily spread by trailered watercraft travelling from an infested lake.

“The concern is that folks coming to Alberta with their boats could be bringing zebra and quagga mussels they picked up on their boats while in infested lakes in Eastern Canada like the Great Lakes and Lake Winnipeg, or for our snowbirds returning with boats from infested lakes in the southwestern United States such as Lake Mead, Lake Powell, and Lake Havasu, all of which have zebra or quagga mussel infestations,” said Seitz Vermeer.

Alberta’s irrigation infrastructure includes more than 50 storage reservoirs that provide recreational activities such as boating and angling. These reservoirs also provide water to 8,000 kilometres of canals and buried irrigation pipeline.

“If invasive mussels were to be introduced to an irrigation reservoir from an infested boat, the entire downstream irrigation system could be at risk of reduced water conveyance and increased maintenance and replacement costs due to the buildup of live mussels,” said Seitz Vermeer.

Watercraft inspections became mandatory in Alberta last year, with inspection stations set up at several of Alberta’s border locations. Anyone towing a boat or any type of watercraft, including canoes and kayaks, are required by law to stop and be inspected.

“If you find anything suspicious, or suspect that another boat may have mussels attached to it, call the aquatic invasive species hotline at 1-855-336-BOAT (2628),” said Seitz Vermeer. “When you are returning from out of province with a boat, be sure you have cleaned, drained and dried your boat, and ensure that the drain plug has been removed. If you come upon a watercraft inspection station, be sure to stop and be inspected.”

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