British Columbia unveils zebra, quagga mussel defense plan

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British Columbia has increased its efforts to protect itself against invasive zebra and quagga mussels, launching a new US$1 million program aimed at early detection and rapid response to sightings within the province.

The mussels -- already a common issue for hydroelectric project operators in many parts of the United States -- have not yet been seen within British Columbia lakes or rivers, but the province is launching the program in anticipation of the 2015 boating season.

"Invasive mussels can impact the efficiency of our hydroelectric generating facilities by attaching themselves to the surfaces on our dams," BC Hydro deputy CEO Chris O'Riley said. "This is a big threat, especially to our facilities on the Columbia River, where about 50% of the electricity used by British Columbians each year is generated."

The B.C. government said that the program will allow teams to inspect and decontaminate boats entering from Alberta, in addition to boats from the U.S. identified as a concern by the Canadian Border Services Agency and U.S.-based partners. The teams will include students and recent graduates from Vancouver Island University.

The funding will also be used to install 24 new highway signs promoting the province's "Clean, Drain, Dry" program at significant entry points into British Columbia, as well as expanding the Report All Poachers and Polluters (RAPP) line to receive and coordinate reports of mussel threats or sightings.

"This is a major step in our ongoing efforts to keep the provinces' ecosystems, hydro stations, drinking water facilities and salmon populations safe," Minister of Environment Mary Polak said. "It also provides specialized training and summer employment to university students specializing in environmental compliance."

The program is being applauded by the Invasive Species Council of BC (ISCBC), which has worked with the province's government the past three years to increase awareness about the mussels.

"The level of government partnership across ministries -- forests, environment, transportation, agriculture -- and with BC Hydro and others is leading the way in Canada to protect against the threats of mussels to our important fish stocks and other economic impacts," ISCBC executive director Gail Wallin said. "This model of cooperation, along with growing partnerships with local and aboriginal governments, is key to success."

British Columbia said it is continuing to work with Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Alberta and Saskatchewan to implement a "perimeter defense plan" against zebra and quagga mussels.

For more news from Canada, visit here.

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