Group wants pre-emptive measures from province to prevent zebra mussel invasion

Zebra mussels have not yet been found in Saskatchewan and one group would like to keep it that way.

Invasive species can clog drains and pipes, sharp shells washing ashore can cut swimmers' feet

Zebra mussels coat a boat's stainless steel trim tab and cylinder on Saturday at Gimli Harbour, Man. (Submitted by Dean Thorkelsson)

They're not quite spawned from the depths of the underworld but for people living in Saskatchewan's resort communities, they're still an abomination.

Zebra mussels are an aquatic invasive species which can attach to any solid structure, survive out of water for days on end and can result in costly infrastructure maintenance by clogging drains, pipes and waterways. 

The mussels can migrate by attaching to the bottom of boats. If they multiply unchecked, they could clog paths to waste water treatment plants or drinking water facilities. 

"The clogging could also then lead to some fouling to where then these animals die off and release some toxins," says Bjoern Wissel, a biologist at the University of Regina. 

Last summer, Saskatchewan's environment minister said the province was cracking down on boats which may be travelling to the province with unsavoury critters clinging to them. He also said conservation officers in Saskatchewan are trained to inspect boats for invasive species such as zebra mussels, and have two mobile decontamination units.

A preventative measure which has been employed — and the group would like to see expanded — is known as clean, drain and dry. Whenever a boat is removed from water, any water should be removed and it should be cleaned and scrubbed with hot water, dried and kept out of water for five days or so.

There may be some benefit to the organisms.

"Zebra mussels filter the water very effectively so the trend is that the water clarity will be improved and there will be less algae in these lakes," Wissel said but noted that the mussels are very selective filter feeders. 

"There definitely [is] the potential for improved water clarity but if that comes at a cost, it's really unknown at this point."

Garry Dixon said he would like to see as many boat inspection sites as possible at provincial border crossings to curb the potential invasion of zebra mussels in Saskatchewan waterways. (Kirk Fraser/CBC)

The invasive species hasn't been found in Saskatchewan and one group, the Provincial Association of Resort Communities of Saskatchewan (PARCS), would like to keep it that way. 

Garry Dixon, PARCS president, delivered postcards to the Legislature Building in Regina on Monday afternoon which he said are intended for Premier Brad Wall.

The postcards detailed concerns from cottage owners around the province's lakes and waterways. 

Dixon said a potential infestation would harm investments made by seniors who intend to sell their cottages by impacting resale values.

Dixon understands the financial constraints facing the provincial government but said he would like to see as many boat checks as can be mustered at provincial border crossings in the future. 

"We don't want this government to have the legacy of having our waterways and lakes destroyed when sometimes an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," Dixon said. 

With files from CBC Radio's The Afternoon Edition