Penticton will be the location of one of eight new mussel inspection stations including some along the Alberta and U.S. borders.
The station will become operational on Friday, and will be staffed 10 hours a day, seven days a week for the length of the boating season.
The Penticton station will help prevent the invasive zebra and quagga mussels from entering the Okanagan water system by checking boats entering the lake through the city.
“They’ll make sure the hulls are clean, the ballasts are clean before they go into the lake, and that the trailers and bottom of the boats are dry,” said Penticton MLA Dan Ashton. “The mussels can settle in the bunks of the trailers or inside the bilges of the boats.”
While no zebra or quagga mussels have been detected in B.C. to date, Okanagan and Similkameen Invasive Species Society (OASIS) co-ordinator Lisa Scott noted it only takes one boat to change that. There is no known solution on how to get rid of them yet, and one female can have up to one million young every year. If the mussels were to reach B.C.’s waterways, they would not only be environmentally destructive but also cause millions of dollars in damage as they cluster together, clogging things such as intake pipes.
The potential destruction the mussels could cause was the driving force behind the stations, as the $2 million in funding for the project was provided jointly by BC Hydro, Fortis BC, Columbia Power and the Columbia Basin Trust, as each group is aware of the potential cost of having the mussels reach British Columbia.
While boats that stay in Okanagan Lake won’t need to be checked by the inspection station, any other boats looking to launch from Penticton will. Those boat owners will be asked which lakes their boat was last in, and how long ago it was. If the boat was within a body of water considered at risk within the last 30 days, it will need to undergo an inspection before it can launch into the lake. Although the mussels haven’t reached B.C., they are in Manitoba and several southern states such as Nevada, putting the Okanagan at risk.
“We received information from the provincial government that showed that last year as part of a pilot project for this program with stations around British Columbia, they intercepted 70 boats that were high risk,” Scott said. “Of those 70 boats, 36 per cent of them were destined for the Okanagan. That was significantly higher than anywhere else in British Columbia, so we truly are a destination location when it comes to the boating public. The more people that come here, the more at risk we are.”
Although the new station is in Penticton, the city is hardly the only entry point into the Okanagan water system. As such, continued awareness is key to preventing the spread of mussels.
“The information is required in teaching people,” Ashton said. “You can’t stop everyone, someone could come through in the middle of the night and not think. So what we need to do is educate the boating public to insure they are aware of the damage they could cause inadvertently by bringing a boat that is infected, whether it be from a purchase from Manitoba, or east or down south.”
Ashton added keeping the mussels out of B.C. is as simple as being aware, and having your boat checked.