Potential for disastrous mussels arriving at Sylvan Lake a factor in launch discussion

Concern is rippling through our lakeside community about the danger zebra and quagga mussels pose to Sylvan Lake’s health.

Concern is rippling through our lakeside community about the danger zebra and quagga mussels pose to Sylvan Lake’s health.

The fear is boats used in lakes and rivers south of the border will carry these dangerous freshwater species to our area.

At the same time, municipalities around the lake have met to consider how to create another boat launch to meet public demand. But there’s concern it may have to be monitored so boats can be inspected before allowed in the water. One infected boat was discovered bound for Sylvan Lake last year.

More and more has been said in the past three months about a growing trend of highly destructive mussels moving across the United States and their potential to attach to boats coming north for use in Sylvan and other Alberta lakes.

Zebra and quagga mussels can spread quickly and live out of water for up to 30 days. Once introduced to a waterbody, they are virtually impossible to eradicate and can cause millions of dollars in damage to water-operated infrastructure and harm aquatic ecosystems.

The concern is so high, in fact, that the Alberta government launched a new watercraft inspection program.

Boats and water equipment entering Alberta from other jurisdictions will be examined for invasive plants and animals, like Eurasian water-milfoil and zebra and quagga mussels, stated an information bulletin from Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (AESRD) in mid-June.

“If a boat is found to have zebra or quagga mussels, it will be decontaminated or the owner will be asked to keep the watercraft out of Alberta’s water for up to 30 days. If Eurasian water-milfoil or other plants are found on the watercraft, it will be washed on site.

“The inspections are part of a larger program safeguarding Alberta’s waterways from non-native species. The initiative also includes a new monitoring program for adult and juvenile mussels as part of AESRD’s ongoing surface water quality monitoring program.”

Two directors of Sylvan Lake Watershed Stewardship Society are now Certified Watercraft and Equipment Inspectors after taking a course at Red Deer County June 27. President Graeme Strathdee and Past President Kim Schmitt participated in the training course hosted by the province. Blayne West, Lacombe County’s environmental coordinator and Art Preachuk, Red Deer County’s agricultural manager also successfully completed the “Inspection and Decontamination of Watercraft for Zebra/Quagga Mussels” course and are now Level One operators, reported Strathdee on the society’s website.

The threat of these creatures is also entering discussions about future lake access for boaters who want to enjoy Sylvan Lake.

Currently there’s an unsupervised boat launch at Sunbreaker Cove which is operated by Lacombe County. There’s a privately-run launch at the marina in Sylvan Lake. As well, several informal launches exist at the end of roads leading into the lake.

Red Deer County, earlier this year, began a process to try and close the Range Road 21 access to large boats.

In reference to that, Strathdee, on behalf of Sylvan Lake Watershed Stewardship Society’s 400 members, wrote Alberta Transportation Minister Ric McIver.

He noted that Red Deer County had begun a proposal to modify access to Sylvan Lake at the range road and explored alternatives during a public hearing.

“Since that public hearing was concluded, the threat posed to Sylvan Lake by invasive species, particularly zebra and quagga mussels … has become better defined.

“Experts in Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development have reported on a 2012 case in which a Sylvan Lake-bound boat was intercepted at the Idaho-B.C. border. The threat is real and not theoretical.”

Strathdee stressed, “the consequence of contamination of Sylvan Lake by mussels would be catastrophic for both the recreational environment and for property values.”

“Continued lake access by rural roads such as Range Road 21 that function as lake access points without provision for inspection for invasive species or for decontamination of watercraft, poses a risk that should be taken into account in your decisions on both traditional uses of roads and upgrading of onshore infrastructure.”

As summer progresses, a committee of representatives from municipalities around the lake is considering the need and options for a new boat launch site on the lake.

Sylvan Lake’s Chief Administrative Officer, Betty Osmond, reported to council July 8 that she and Mayor Susan Samson attended a meeting at Lacombe County to discuss a boat launch. “Issues to be addressed were public demand for more access, public safety, environmental considerations due to the threat of invasive species, and control of noise, garbage and other enforcement problems.

“Each municipality agreed to bring the matter back to their council to seek endorsement for moving forward to determine a site, develop a concept and preliminary costing,” her report said.

Albertans are asked to report suspicious materials on boats or equipment using a toll-free hotline 1-855-336-2628 (BOAT). If you are using your boat in more than one waterbody, be sure to clean, drain and dry your boat and equipment before moving to another. This is especially important if you boat outside the province, according to the bulletin from AESRD.

To learn more check Sylvan Lake Watershed Stewardship Society’s website and links at http://sylvanlakewatershed.wordpress.com/2013/03/07/zebra-mussel-alert/.