By Jamie Rieger
If Dreissenid mussels (Zebra and quagga mussels) were to invade Alberta’s waterways and irrigation systems, the cost to eradicate the invasive mollusks would be astronomical for the province. One of the ways the province is working to keep that from happening in irrigation systems is by testing potassium chloride (potash) to see if it would be an effective tool.
“There is nothing regulated in Canada for the control of mussels, but potassium chloride has been used at several locations in the U.S. and at Lake Winnipeg in 2013. It has to be used at a certain concentration for a certain period of time to be most effective,” said Barry Olson, from Alberta Agriculture’s Lethbridge office.
“There are other chemicals that we have eliminated either because of cost, availability, or safety. Potash has already demonstrated to be effective and is readily available in large quantities,” he added.
Last year, Alberta Agriculture did a small test in the Eastern Irrigation District, but only one two-and-a-half kilometer, straight-line pipeline was tested. This year’s testing in the St. Mary’s River Irrigation District is to be larger and more complex.
“We also used a simple pumping system. This year, we want to do a larger, more complex test and will be using a flow meter,” said Olson. “We are aiming to test four systems and are working around irrigation schedules.”
Olson said that Alberta Environment and Alberta Agriculture, along with other agencies have been monitoring waterways in the province for Dreissenid mussels, but none have been found to date. However, there have been some mussels dedicated through an inspection program on boats coming into the province.
“There are education and monitoring programs in place with Alberta Environment and Parks taking the lead and the Irrigation Districts are very supportive of these programs,” said Olson.
In addition to field studies, Alberta Agriculture is conducting a small plot study at the Alberta Irrigation Technology Centre in Lethbridge where they are applying potash to a cereal crop.
“The treated water is applied to cropland and we need to understand that the effects will be on the soil and on the crop. We need to have that data,” said Olson. “Also, we need to assess what will happen if we need to ramp it up to a district level. We need a tool in place to control them if they ever do get into our system.”
Last year, larvae of the quagga mussels were discovered in Montana’s Tiber reservoir, which connects to the Marias River system and ultimately, into the Mississippi River.
Concerns of the invasive aquatic species getting into Alberta’s St. Mary’s or Milk River systems were heightened.
It is estimated that invasive mussels has the potential of costing the Alberta government $75 million a year in damages and $8 million to the irrigation industry.