The Okanagan is home to some of the best water in the world. Clean, safe drinking water is priceless. Zebra and quagga mussels put this at risk. These invasive mussels promote toxic algae which would pollute our drinking water. They also clog drinking water intakes and distribution systems. It could cost millions of tax dollars to clean them out of pipes or retrofit systems.
Our valley is known for its lakes and beaches. It’s what has always attracted people to this valley – residents and tourists. Today, we can throw our blanket down on a sandy beach, or choose to go rock hounding on some of the most beautiful rock beaches around. Zebra and quagga mussels put this at risk. These invasive mussels can ruin beaches. Razor-sharp shells on shore will make the sand un-walkable in bare feet. Where dead mussels are washed up along the shoreline, they can create foul-smelling piles, significantly altering our famous playground.
The fish of this valley – sockeye, kokanee, steelhead and rainbow trout – have always been an important food source to the Okanagan First Nations people. In our more recent history, fishing has become a tradition to generations of families who moved and settled in the Okanagan. And today, the fish draw visitors from around the world – angling for their best catch yet! Our fish are not only a source of food, they are an integral part of maintaining a healthy freshwater ecosystem and are important to our economy. Zebra and quagga mussels put this at risk. These invasive mussels would devastate native salmon – depleting their food sources and fouling water. Ultimately, it could eliminate our sport fishery.
The Okanagan is recognized as unique in Canada – and the world. It is a region valued for its high biodiversity, but it is also home to some of the most endangered ecosystems in Canada with several species at risk. Among those at risk is our own native Rocky Mountain Ridged Mussel – a much larger mussel that can grow to 12.5 cm (almost 5 inches) long. The Province of B.C., recognizing the need to preserve and protect these various endangered species, has named a number of Ecological Reserves in our valley. Zebra and quagga mussels put our valley’s lake ecology at risk.
If introduced they will outcompete native species for food. As the invasive mussels outcompete native species they also restructure the food web. In addition, they help promote toxic algae blooms, causing fish and bird kills and contaminating the lake water.
Many of us first came to the Okanagan as visitors or tourists. When we fell in love with the beauty of this valley, many bought property, making this our permanent home. Zebra and quagga mussels put this at risk… especially if you have beachfront property. The annual loss to waterfront real estate value alone is estimated at $10 million. This accounts for impact to selling costs and maintenance costs (e.g. cleaning shells from beachfront property).
Tourists come from around the world to come play in the Okanagan – visiting our beaches and fishing, renting boats and other water toys, as well as fishing gear to enjoy these pursuits. They also enjoy touring our wineries, fruit stands, and more. Zebra and quagga mussels put this at risk.
These invasive mussels foul water intakes – public and private – used to pump water to farms and drinking water treatment plants. This affects orchards, industry, hotels, restaurants and other businesses – basically everyone. We all rely on water.
They are an expensive problem for anglers and boaters. They can ruin equipment, clogging and corroding motor cooling systems, fouling hulls, and jamming centerboard wells under sailboats. The estimated cost to the boating industry for anti-foul paint/cleaning, loss of boat and equipment sales, and increased maintenance at marinas and docks is $3.7 milllion. The cost to the individual boat owner for anti-foul paint/cleaning is between $1,000 and $2,500 per year for each boat if one wants to leave their vessel in infested waters It takes only a month in infested waters to cause problems.
In addition to the hard costs, there are the assets that are priceless. Clean, sandy or rock beaches will be replaced with beaches that are littered with foul-smelling and sharp shells, making them unsafe to walk on in bare feet. Native salmon – which draw anglers – are at risk with the promotion of toxic algae and the mussel’s ability to outcompete for food and completely alter the food web.
There is also the impact to employment in the tourist industry. Annual loss to tourism revenue is estimated at between $12 million and $22 million.
The beauty of the Okanagan, with its moderate climate and year-round recreational opportunities, has long been an attractive place for people to retire. The cost of homes, compared to larger cities like Vancouver or Calgary, and the region’s diverse economy, has also made it attractive for young families looking to buy their first home. Zebra and quagga mussels put this at risk.
When zebra and/or quagga mussels invade waters they clog power-plants and public-water intakes and pipes. Routine treatment is necessary and very expensive. This leads to increased utility bills and can lead to higher taxes to pay for infrastructure upgrades.
Our region also depends heavily on tourism. Annual losses from impacts to the Okanagan fishery, alone, are estimated at about $16 million – this includes boat rentals, lodging and food for anglers. With the loss of additional spin-off benefits, this figure could be $41.6 million (e.g. the economic benefits from boat rentals, hotels and restaurants who purchase goods and hire staff).