For those that don’t know, zebra and quagga mussels can be incredibly harmful to the ecosystem if they’re introduced to the lakes here in the valley.
Here’s everything you need to know about mussels and how to protect your Okanagan Lake boat lifts and docks.
1. What are zebra and quagga mussels?
Zebra and quagga mussels are invasive freshwater mussels that filter plankton out of lakes, depleting that food source for native species. This can lead to a cascade of effects that can be detrimental to our water supply, ecosystem and economy.
2. How harmful are these mussels?
Seeing a mussel in the lake may not look dangerous, but it does pose a significant threat. If Okanagan Lake becomes home to either type of mussel, the potential side effects include:
- Contaminated drinking water – We’re so fortunate to have a local supply of clean drinking water. If the zebra or quagga mussels move in, however, they promote algae growth that’s toxic and pollutes the water supply. They’re also notorious for moving into pipes, clogging water intakes, and making water distribution a much more costly endeavour. These costs will be passed down to the taxpayers.
- Ecosystem challenges – The Okanagan Valley is home to quite a few Canadian endangered species. The Western Painted Turtle and the Rocky Mountain Ridged Mussel are just a few of those most threatened by the invasion of zebra and quagga mussels.
- Reduced lakefront property values – Those that live along the shores of our beautiful lakes have likely invested in Okanagan Lake boat lifts and docks. However, these invasive mussels can cause enough damage that the property values around the lake can plummet. Removal of the mussels and repair to Shoreline docks and lifts can get expensive as well, increasing the cost of living in the valley. We know our lakefront homeowners are one of the biggest defenses in keeping invasive mussels out of lake for many reasons. A recent blog article touched on all the ways they help protect the lake and foreshore.
- Fewer fish & food supply – The Okanagan Lake is home to an important source of food for Syilx/Okanagan people. The lake is easily regarded as one of the best fishing destinations in Canada, calling to people from across the country and continent. However, if invasive mussels find a home here, the fish population will suffer.
- Less-than-beautiful beaches – For those that visit the beaches regularly, including those from out of town, a mussel invasion could mean fewer beach days. The shells from these invasive mussels can become quite sharp and smelly as they wash up on the shores, which means fewer people will be able to enjoy the beautiful sand we’re currently fortunate enough to enjoy. This would likely lead to reduced tourism money in the community as well.
3. How can I prevent this from happening?
If you own a boat and take it out of the region, follow the “clean, drain, dry” protocol. Wash your boat and accessories, give it a really good rinse, and allow it to dry completely before launching it into the lakes in the Okanagan Valley.
It’s important to do a thorough inspection too. Zebra and quagga mussels are the size of a grain of sand at their smallest stage, and once one of these mussels is introduced into the lake, a female can produce up to one million eggs per year. This can result in drastic growth over a short period of time.