Keeping invasive aquatics out of Alberta 0
The invasive weed issue in Southern Alberta has been slowly making its way into the consciousness and conversation of area residents. However, it took a while for the problem to be acknowledged and that has created what appears to be a game of catch-up, being played into infinity.
The weed situation in Southern Alberta draws parallels to that of another invasive species condition in North America, the zebra and quagga mussel infestation. Found in many lakes throughout eastern Canada and the Southern United States since the late 1980's, before anybody knew these mussels were a problem, it was too late.
Western Canada's fresh water lakes currently remain uninhabited by these aggressively invasive, fingernail-sized molluscs, but the threat of their spread is still very real. Able to survive for up to thirty days outside of the water, there is ample time for a boat to be transported from an infested lake in the Southwest United States or Eastern Canada and enter a Southern Alberta body of water with a host of live mussels, ready to reproduce. This danger is only exacerbated by Canada's absence of inspection stations.
On July 3, 2012, a power boat that was transported from Arizona to British Columbia's Shuswap Lake was removed from the water by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. The presence of quagga mussels was confirmed although the sample taken proved them to be dead at the time. There is still a risk that some of the boat's internal water sources, the bilge and pump systems, could have contained living specimens and further investigation is taking place.
This recent incident highlights just how quickly and easily an entire lake's biodiversity could be affected and has raised a few questions as to how Alberta plans to prevent a spread into their lakes, rivers and streams.
On Thursday, July 19, likeminded individuals and experts from Municipal Districts around the province gathered for a weed tour of south-western Alberta, organized by Kelly Cooley, the Southern Alberta Weed Coordinator, and Kim Lutz, Agricultural Fieldman for the Crowsnest Pass. While the focus of the day was largely invasive weeds, the first stop was the shores of Crowsnest Lake, for a demonstration of the East Kootenay Invasive Plant Council's (EKIPC) new, $30,000 mobile boat washing station.
Marty Hafke, EKIPC co-ordinator, was on hand to talk about the threat of aquatic invasive species, specifically mussels, and show the over 50 participants how their recently acquired equipment operates.
"This is a state of the art, mobile, boat decontamination system. It was built in Utah and shipped all the way up here", said Hafke. "We decided to go with a well known manufacturer in Utah...because we wanted to make sure we had something that was proven."
The machine consists of a pressure washer, a generator and a diesel powered, hot-water tank. It's capable of pumping out 3000 PSI at 140 degrees Fahrenheit, which is what is required to kill a zebra or quagga mussel, for five and ten seconds, respectively.
Along with out-competing local freshwater mussels, zebra and quagga species can spread very quickly, blocking intake structures for water treatment plants and damaging boats, buoys, docks and beaches. They are also believed to be responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of birds in the Great Lakes since the 1990s.
"The quagga mussels in Lake Erie will filter that entire Great Lake in one week, but they don't have an appetite for everything. So they don't like some things and they'll spit those back out," said Hafke. "What it ends up being are these toxic blue-green algae. And so they did notice when the mussels came in there were increased occurrences of these toxic algae blooms. When the shore birds or migratory birds came in and they'd land in these algae blooms they suddenly got big kill-offs of birds. Another unanticipated consequence that you would really be able to predict."
The EKIPC's decontamination station will be put to work at various local water bodies to ensure boats are safe for entry, but its mere presence will be utilized to further education and awareness about invasive aquatics as prevention is not only the best method of offence, in many cases, it might be the only one.