By Spencer Hall

When you think of creatures most likely to collapse an ecosystem, most of us wouldn’t immediately jump to mussels, but it turns out these thumbnail sized mollusks are more insidious than they might seem.

There have been growing concerns that invasive mussels have found their way into B.C. after being discovered last fall in Idaho’s Snake River ” a tributary of the Columbia River.

Once in an environment, quagga and zebra mussels change the water chemistry, creating toxic algae blooms. They also remove food sources for fish and other aquatic life, clog water intakes and boat motors, and corrode concrete and metal in water.

If that wasn’t enough, these pesky little mollusks are also litter bugs, leaving their razor sharp shells along the beach, making it impossible to walk on shores of infected bodies of water.

These mussels have been found in the Great Lakes Region and, according to the Okanagan Basin Water Board, have cost about $500 million per year, just to manage impacts.

If these creatures have found their way into the Columbia Basin and make it into B.C., it is estimated it will cost the province about $129 million annually, with most of that cost being put onto local governments and First Nations, unless the Province and federal government take action.

The Okanagan Basin Water Board made multiple recommendations to the Province and federal governments, including “pull the plug” legislation that would require all water users to remove the drain plug on their watercraft before transporting the craft on provincial roads.It also recommended the federal Minister of Public Safety issue a directive requiring all watercraft crossing the border from Saskatchewan to B.C. to be inspected before being allowed to enter the country.

It also recommended the federal government commit to $4 million in funding annually for the Invasive Mussel Detection Program.

However, Minister of Water, Lands, and Resource Stewardship, Nathan Cullen said the Province was notified by several funding partners, including the federal government, that they may reduce their financial support of the program.

It is crucial to have robust programs and funding in place to stop the spread of invasive mussels. Once they’re in an environment, they’re incredibly difficult to get rid of. In September, Idaho officials dumped more than 116,000 litres of copper based pesticide in an attempt to be rid of the mussels. While it is unclear if this method eradicated the mussels, it has been reported the pesticide killed nearly 7 tonnes of fish and at least 48 sturgeon.

Those who support the proposed “pull the plug” legislation are encouraged to reach out to the Province at [email protected]