Original Published on Jul 20, 2022 at 10:45

By KENDALL KING, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Irrigation districts in southeast Alberta have reinstated mandatory watercraft registration and several other practices in an effort to prevent introduction of two invasive mussels species.

“Quagga mussels and zebra mussels are the two species we’re most concerned about,” EID land supervisor, Nathan Fontaine, told the News. “We’ve been working toward preventing these since approximately 2015, when we first started hearing about them.”

The mussels, which are native to Eurasia, have become a considerable threat to Canadian waterways since first introduced approximately 40 years ago. It is believed the mussels have not yet entered Alberta’s waterways, but have been found in Manitoba.

“The mussels would definitely pose a high level of threat to our ecosystem,” said Jeff Forsyth, senior biologist with the Alberta Conservation Association. “The biggest thing they would do is upset the trophic levels. So basically, primary producers, like algae and phytoplanktons, would be filtered out of the food web and wouldn’t be available for other organisms to eat. From that standpoint, it would upset the balance of species composition.”

While Forsyth says the mussels have some benefits, their presence overall would be detrimental, as they have no natural competitor to keep the species in check.

This is a major concern for irrigation districts and one of the main motivators behind annual preventative measures.

“We have 13 reservoirs, over 4,000 kilometres of canals and pipelines and tens of thousands of control structures,” Fontaine said. “If these muscles get into, say, a pipeline and start reproducing and closing off that pipeline; the effects it would have on irrigated agriculture, the money it would take to try to get rid of the mussels and the amount of damage which would occur; it’s astronomical.”

As well as watercraft registration, irrigation districts have also implemented mandatory provincial inspections for watercrafts which have been outside of Alberta in the past 30 days; regular water testing; and public awareness campaigns.

This item reprinted with permission from The News, Medicine Hat, Alberta