Dogs now a tool in keeping Alberta mussel-free

Alberta doesn’t have mussels and wants to keep it that way.

Invasive mussels can wreak havoc on pipes and infrastructure so dogs are being brought in to help

Alberta does not have invasive mussels and wants to keep it that way with a detection program that now includes dogs. (Erik Tremblay/CBC)

Alberta doesn't have mussels and wants to keep it that way.

Cindy Sawchuk heads a program with Alberta Environment and Parks tasked with preventing them from coming in to the province in the first place.

"These mussels can be completely devastating should we find them in our water bodies because they don't have any natural predators," Sawchuk told CBC News at an information session in Chestermere on Saturday.

"They reproduce super rapidly. Once we get them we really don't have any feasible control options."

Cindy Sawchuk heads a detection program designed to keep Alberta mussel-free. (Erik Tremblay/CBC)

Zebra and quagga mussels clog hard surfaces, she explains.

"We have thousands of kilometres of buried pipes and irrigation canals that move water. All of those would start to become clogged and then we see cost increases because we have to maintain those structures, we could not get rid of them."

Heather Davies, a city councillor and lake property owner for about 25 years, says prevention starts with education.

Heather Davies, a city councillor, says education is key in the mussel fight. (Erik Tremblay/CBC)

"We have had to do a lot of collaboration in regard to education for the zebra and quagga mussels because it is only B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and five states below us that don't have them," Davies said.

"This water body is our front yard and we want to protect it, keep it healthy and learn as much about it as we possibly can."

She said mussel detection information sessions have been well attended.

Sawchuk says sniffing dogs have recently been added to the detection program.

A mussel-detection program in Alberta now includes dogs. (Erik Tremblay/CBC)

"It is augmenting an already proven method which is our watercraft inspections program," Sawchuk said.

"We are parked at major highways around the province and we inspect watercraft for invasive mussels attached to watercraft, whether it is canoes, kayaks or motorboats."

With files from Erik Tremblay