Aquatic invasive species, including zebra and quagga mussels, have been a threat to Provincial waterbodies for many years. Invasive mussels, in particular have moved across Canada and the continental United States at a significant pace leaving terrible ecological and economic impacts in their path. Many provincial stakeholders, including irrigation districts, continue work to prevent the introduction and establishment of invasive species in Alberta waterbodies.
One of those stakeholders is the Eastern Irrigation District (EID). One of 13 Alberta irrigation Districts, the EID owns and operates 2,000 km of linear water conveyance infrastructure, and 13 off stream irrigation storage reservoirs. This infrastructure supports water delivery to 310,000 irrigated agricultural acres and also provides water supply access for the City of Brooks, the County of Newell, a major beef processing facility, numerous livestock feeding operations, wetland and wildlife habitat areas and to support water based recreation.
An introduction of any aquatic invasive species threatens the normal operation of irrigation infrastructure and establishment will result in costly future maintenance expenditures for the EID. As the EID is within easy driving distance of Calgary, as well as the Saskatchewan and United States borders, many of its reservoirs see heavy watercraft use from local and non-local residents. Increasing use of the reservoirs from non-local watercraft owners, particularly those coming from areas with active invasive mussel populations increases the risk of introduction within the EID.
Though active in supporting prevention activities sponsored by the Government of Alberta and the irrigation sector the EID recognized the increasing risk of introduction within their district and in 2018 initiated an Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) Prevention Program to further protect against introduction and to provide awareness and education to the public on the risk of AIS.
Managed by a full-time staff member, the core of the program requires the registration of any watercraft prior to entry into any EID reservoir. Registration is facilitated through collaborative partnerships with boat launch operators. Through registration watercraft owners commit to following approved Clean-Drain-Dry prevention activities and having their watercraft inspected by Provincial AIS personnel upon returning to Alberta if the watercraft is taken outside of Alberta. The direct interaction with watercraft owners prior to launch allows identification of watercraft at high risk of carrying invasive mussels to ensure approved inspection and decontamination prior to launch. Once registered in the program, watercraft not leaving the province can re-launch in EID reservoirs without re-inspection.
Recreational demand on irrigation storage reservoirs is substantial. During the 2021 season 4,166 watercraft were registered in the EID program through four boat launch sites on three separate EID irrigation reservoirs.
In addition to the watercraft program, the EID also participates in monitoring activities supporting the provincial AIS program focused on early detection of invasive mussels.
Prevention is the best defense against AIS introduction. The EID is working hard to support prevention efforts to keep AIS out of Alberta waterbodies. Watercraft owners can support prevent efforts by cleaning, draining and drying all watercraft, trailer, motors, and gear every time, everywhere.