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Zebra mussels cost Canadians billions each year; cost to Manitobans still unknown

After 4 months in the water in Gimli, a boat is completely covered in zebra mussels.
After 4 months in the water in Gimli, a boat is completely covered in zebra mussels. Dan Van Caeyzeele/Submitted

WINNIPEG — Zebra mussels have been in some Canadian waterways for more than two decades. While they multiply by the millions, so does the cost of damage they cause.

“We saw this coming for years but didn’t adequately put in the resources,” said Dr. Eva Pip, a water quality and ecosystem expert with the University of Winnipeg. “The problem is irreversible and in fact it’s a catastrophe, it’s a disaster.”

The province has said the invasive species now stretches as far north as Hecla Island but on Friday was still not willing to admit Lake Winnipeg faces an all out collapse.

READ MORE: Expert says Lake Winnipeg is a lost cause

“There will be a change to the lake obviously but there are a wide range of challenges that we face as a society, with addressing climate change and so forth,” said Tom Nevakshonoff. “Human kind reacts to these challenges and adapts.”

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Zebra mussels have been moving into 200 waterways in Minnesota for the past 15 years and the affects are already being widely felt.

Beautiful sandy beaches have become overrun with sharp, glass like zebra mussel shells and Manitoba’s beaches could also be in trouble.

“We are going to start to see instead of our beautiful sandy beaches, we are going to start to see sharp shells, changing the nature of our beaches and how we use them,” said Colleen Sklar, the executive director of the Lake Friendly Project. “We are also going to see implications in how we access our lakes. Rocks and shorelines will be impacted and changed.”

WATCH: Colleen Sklar from the Lake Friendly Project discusses impacts of zebra mussels

While it`s unclear what the financial impact of zebra mussels could eventually be in Manitoba, in other provinces the tally is skyrocketing.

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Government officials have said the total cost of managing the impacts of zebra mussels in Ontario is estimated to be about $75 to $91 million per year; that includes funding, “education, cleaning, maintenance of equipment, around zebra mussels,” said Colleen Sklar, executive director of the Lake Friendly Project.  “In Canada, the price tag rises to about $7 billion.”

“Municipal infrastructure has been affected by the mussels attaching to any hard surface, basically anything submerged in the water will be affected,” said Sklar. “Even things like hydro generation equipment can all be affected by zebra mussels attaching.”

The annual cost on the Great Lakes to control the zebra mussels in water intake pipes alone is $250 million and the total cost tops more than $500 million.