Preventing an aquatic invasion

Amazing how something so small, can cause such large problems. With the August long weekend just about here, many Albertans will be taking their boats out on the water. However, the provincial government and local groups are warning boaters¬†to be wary of unwelcome aquatic species ‘hitchhiking’ into our waterways. “[It’s a] huge, huge area of focus,” says Sarah Parker, Priority Issues Coordinator with ESRD. “And it’s not just Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development working on this, that’s how great of an issue it is.”

Alberta is one of the last places in North America who’s waterways haven’t been seriously effected by aquatic invasive species and they’re trying to keep it that way. Two types of mussels (zebra mussels and quagga mussels) and a weed (Eurasion watermilfoil) are of particular concern. Parker gave an informal presentation at the Beauvais Lake Provincial Park, and brought along a clump of mussels to illustrate how they grow and reproduce. “This is a DVD that was hung for about six months in a Great Lake,” says Parker, holding the clump. “They pulled it out and this is what it looked like.”

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Once settled in a body of water, the mussels reproduce quickly and are nearly impossible to eradicate. “They have tremendous ramifications for both water infrastructure costs, contamination of those infrastructures, which includes both public water utilities as well as irrigation districts,” says Connie Simmons, Planning Manager for the Oldman Watershed Council. “But above and beyond that, we have a huge impact on healthy aquatic ecosystems.”

The cost of dealing with invasive species shows why the province is placing such an emphasis on protecting its waterways. From the power generation to tourism, invasive species could have an impact of over 75 million dollars.¬†“If the environmental and the tourist and recreation doesn’t really get you, then what it means to taxpayers will,” says Parker.

In order to prevent aquatic invasive species from growing in Alberta, the government is asking recreational boaters to be aware of the issue, to inspect and to clean their water craft when travelling from another body of water, from another province, or from the States. To help with this, inspection and decontamination checkpoints have been established along highways entering the province. Simmons hopes boaters will do their part to prevent the spreading of aquatic invasive species. “Be compliant about having your boat inspected at an inspection station, having a decontamination process done… We’re really hoping for the public to participate in that wholeheartedly and basically just be aware.”

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