The efforts by the Swift Current Creek Watershed Stewards (SCCWS) to keep two aggressive aquatic invasive species out of the watershed continues this summer with monitoring and awareness programs.
It is almost impossible to eradicate zebra and quagga mussels after they enter a watershed and it is therefore essential to stop them.
“We’re concerned,” SCCWS Executive Director Kevin Steinley said. “We’ve seen what’s happened in places where they’ve gotten in and the devastation, how they’ve changed the ecosystem for the worse. We don’t want to see that in our watershed.”
The work done by the SCCWS is part of a provincial effort to keep these mussels out of Saskatchewan, and until now this prevention program has been successful.
“They haven’t been found in any waterbody in Saskatchewan,” he said. “They’ve been taken off boats that have come in, but monitoring efforts haven’t found any evidence of the mussels being released into any waterbodies in Saskatchewan.”
Invasive mussels are already present in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, and 34 states, including Minnesota, Montana and North Dakota.
Invasive mussels can have a widespread impact on the natural environment and infrastructure in a watershed.
“There are concerns for people who irrigate and have water inlets, especially in Duncairn Dam, because if they get in there, they could clog those up,” he noted. “It could also have an impact on the City of Swift Current water treatment plant, because if they clog their intakes then it’s going to be an expensive fix for them.”
These mussels colonize hard surfaces and will attach to watercraft hulls, motors and water-based infrastructure. Any mussel that is attached to a hard surface such as a boat hull is an invasive species, because native mussels will not do that.
This summer’s extensive monitoring program by the SCCWS is done through funding support from the provincial government’s Fish and Wildlife Development Fund as well as the Saskatchewan Association of Watersheds.
Substrate samplers have been put out at docks on Lac Pelletier, Duncairn and Eastend reservoirs, Cypress Lake, Saskatchewan Landing, Beaver Flat, and Herbert Ferry. These samplers are basically weighted pieces of PVC pipes.
“Then we check them about every three weeks or so to ensure that there have been no mussels that attached to these samplers,” he said. “We’ve got just about 20 samplers set out throughout the southwest.”
Members of the public are requested not to handle these samplers if they see any of them hanging off a dock.
“They’re all on chains and they’re hanging down,” he said. “So if people see them, please just leave them in the water. Let us come out and check them and pull them out.”
The SCCWS added a new component to this summer’s monitoring program. Water samples will be collected in July and August at Lac Pelletier, Duncairn Reservoir, Cypress Lake and somewhere along the south shore of the South Saskatchewan River.
These water samples will be tested for the presence of veligers, which are the larval stage of the mussels. The samples will be shipped to the Ministry of Environment, and their staff will do environmental DNA testing for the presence of veligers.
The SCCWS monitoring program includes waterbodies outside the Swift Current Creek watershed to ensure early detection of invasive mussels.
“There is no watershed group in that Milk River-Frenchman River area, and we’re the closest to the Saskatchewan Landing and the south bank of the South Saskatchewan River,” he explained. “Many of our residents of the watershed also will go to the Landing or may go to Cypress Lake. So there’s a lot of movement that we want to make sure they don’t come in here and that if they are here that we’re not transporting them to somewhere else.”
SCCWS staff will be attending various events during the summer to educate the public about these invasive mussels and to remind boaters to clean, dry and drain their boats before moving from one waterbody to another.
“We will be at Market Square a couple of Saturdays in Swift Current to talk to people there about zebra mussels and what people can do to prevent their spread,” he said. “We’re actually doing some work with the Western Canada Summer Games to put together a package for the people involved in the canoe/kayak rowing events, which is going to be held at Lac Pelletier.”
Water users can assist the SCCWS to keep invasive mussels out of the watershed by following some basic procedures after using their watercraft.
“The biggest thing is to make sure that you’re not transporting them from one waterbody to the next when you’re transporting boats and other equipment,” Steinley said.
This can be done by following the three key steps of cleaning, draining and drying your boat. The cleaning procedure should include the boat trailer and other equipment to remove mud or any water.
“Leave it out maybe in the sun, let it dry for a bit before you put it in a new waterbody,” he said. “And then drain all your water. Make sure there is no water on the boat, on the deck. Make sure if you’ve got ballasts or livewells that those are drained so that you’re not transporting water from one waterbody to the next.”
These measures will prevent the survival of the invasive mussels until the watercraft are used again in another waterbody.
“These mussels can survive three to 10 days, probably closer to three days in dry, but if there’s dampness, even a little bit of dampness, they can survive up to 30 days,” he said. “So make sure everything is clean. … Even though there is a pretty extensive monitoring system going on in Saskatchewan right now and different places have task forces and different things going on to try and keep them out, they can slip through.”