The small freshwater mussels, which originated from the lakes of southern Russia and Ukraine and were introduced to many countries worldwide in 1980, have already jeopardized the health of bodies of water in the eastern part of the province, including Lake Winnipeg, Lake Manitoba and the Red River.
The mussels are transferred from one body of water to another by boat or another watercraft if they’re not cleaned properly.
“If those boats move from those [contaminated] bodies of water to ours, it’s not a question of if, but when, they’ll show up,” said Trevor Maguire, chairperson of the Pelican Lake Healthy Lake Committee.
Zebra mussels reproduce quickly and can impact a habitat’s food chain, clog water intake systems and damage watercraft, according to the Manitoba government’s website.
Some bodies of water, such as Sandy Lake, located 96 kilometres northwest of Brandon, have inspection stations to check boats for zebra mussels and other species, but lack the capacity to properly clean them. The closest cleaning station is in Headingley, 206 kilometres northeast of Pelican Lake, Maguire said.
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Current provincial regulations say boats must be treated thermally, using either heat or cold, to kill zebra mussels and other invasive species. Thermal treatments should also be used to decontaminate water-related equipment. These regulations aren’t doing enough to protect Pelican Lake and other Westman waterways from being contaminated, Maguire said. There must be an option in western Manitoba for people to clean their boats, too.
“If you leave Lake Winnipeg or Red River at nine o’clock at night, and you’re driving home, that wash station isn’t open again until the morning. Are you going to wait in Headingley and get your boat cleaned? Or are you just going to drive home?” Maguire said.
Currently, Manitoba’s aquatic invasive species website does not list the locations of any stations, stating the annual watercraft inspection program has ended for 2022. The website doesn’t contain any information on this year’s program.
It’s virtually impossible to thoroughly decontaminate a boat at home, Maguire said.
“If you have a higher temperature pressure-washer that goes over 60 degrees Celsius, it needs to sustain that temperature for an extended period of time,” he said. “Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of people with that equipment.”
More enforcement from conservation officers could also help stop the spread of zebra mussels, Maguire said.
Greg Nesbitt, Manitoba’s minister of natural resources, agreed that more needs to be done to protect Prairie lakes from the threat of zebra mussels. To figure out the best way to do that, he appointed a ministerial working group of interested citizens last fall, which will meet soon, he told the Sun.
“The point of this committee is to work with our department to try to formulate a strategy to deal with aquatic invasive species moving forward,” said Nesbitt, the Progressive Conservative MLA for Riding Mountain.
Echoing Maguire’s words, Nesbitt said one of the things the ministerial working group will look at is potentially adding more decontamination stations to places in Manitoba where they’ll have the most impact.
“We need to have them at pinch points, where the traffic is getting to the lakes.”
However, Nesbitt’s department will need a larger budget to increase the number of cleaning stations and enforcement, he said.
“We need to develop a strategy so we can go to our Treasury Board and ask for more money to do this around Manitoba.”
Manitoba’s lakes are huge drivers of the economy and municipalities would have a lot to lose if those lakes ever became infected, Nesbitt said.
Staff at Riding Mountain National Park said in February they were on high alert for zebra mussels in Clear Lake after a test for environmental DNA for the invasive species came back positive in January.
The presence of the DNA doesn’t necessarily mean there are zebra mussels in Clear Lake, Parks Canada said. Instead, it could have been decontaminated zebra mussel DNA brought to the body of water via a boat, water toy or other source, without the transfer of any living mussels. Three subsequent tests for zebra mussel DNA came back negative.
The Sun contacted the park to see if there were any updates about zebra mussels in Clear Lake but didn’t receive a reply by press time.
Until more cleaning stations are available across the province, there’s only one sure-fire way to keep lakes safe from zebra mussels, Maguire said.
“At the end of the day, if people really value the lakes, just don’t move your boats from lake to lake.”
This story was originally published in The Brandon Sun. It is republished under a Creative Commons license as part of the Local Journalism Initiative.
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