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Invasive aquatic species threatens Alberta water

Government officials demonstrated a new boat inspection program near Pincher Creek.
Government officials demonstrated a new boat inspection program near Pincher Creek.

Invasive species nicknamed aquatic hitch hikers are threatening Alberta’s lakes and rivers.

Don’t let their size fool you. While small, these mussels are causing big waves across North America, and Alberta’s launching a new program to keep them out of our waterways.

“We’re starting the program as a pilot in southwest Alberta,” said Cindy Sawchuk, Strategic Advisor for the Government of Alberta. “And we’re going to take all the lessons we’ve learnt and apply it to the rest of the province about what we’ve learnt about invasive aquatic species.”

The hope is a new boat inspection system will continue to prevent the species from entering Alberta.

Zebra and Quagga mussels latch on to hard surfaces and can live out of water for up to 30 days. Because there are no competing species, the mussels spread quickly and overtake not only ecosystems, but can ruin water operated infrastructure.

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“They filter water and change the water structure,” said Ron McMullin, Executive Director for the Alberta Irrigation Projects Association. “They change the food structure for fish and other sources in the lake, so they change the ecology. When they coat structures, that makes it so pipe diameter is reduced, so water doesn’t flow as well and structures can’t operate.”

To create the pilot project, the province worked closely with Parks Canada, which has been running a similar screening process in Waterton for several years.

Boats entering Waterton also undergo an inspection in order to get a boating permit. Parks Canada partnered with Glacier National Park three years ago to protect its lakes after the species became a problem in neighbouring us states.

“The primary threat for infection in Canada is through boat traffic,” said Dennis Madsen, Resource Conservation Manager for Parks Canada. “We see a lot of boat traffic. They bring their boats up, and we became aware of the potential threat.”

Boats entering Alberta will be stopped at three inspection stations, in Milk River, south Cardston and the Crowsnest Pass.

Officials will be looking for other invasive plants and animals, in addition to the mussels.

Inspections at the boarder saw six boats carrying the species in mid April.

Most recently, the mussels were found on a boat coming from Arizona last Friday.

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