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Province plans to wipe out zebra mussels in Lake Winnipeg

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A group of zebra mussels, taken from Lake Erie, are seen in an undated photo.

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ARCHIVES Enlarge Image

A group of zebra mussels, taken from Lake Erie, are seen in an undated photo.

Four Lake Winnipeg harbours will be off limits to boaters and commercial fishers this spring under a government plan to wipe out an infestation of zebra mussels in one fell swoop.

Gimli, Winnipeg Beach, Balsam Bay and Arnes will be the testing grounds until mid-June in a bid to choke out the aquatic pest and stop the mussels from multiplying, Conservation and Water Stewardship Minister Gord Mackintosh said Wednesday.

The province plans to inject potassium-containing potash into each of the four harbours. Each habour outlet will be ringed by a special synthetic curtain to the lake bottom. Willow Point near Gimli will also be treated on limited basis.

Mackintosh said the government’s plan is to attack the mussels as soon as the ice goes off the lake and when the water temperature allows for what they hope is a one-time treatment. It will cost $500,000.

"We were advised if this was done roughly mid-May it could be concluded mid-June, even staggering treatment in the different harbours," Mackintosh said. "The experience elsewhere has shown zebra mussels can really undermine the enjoyment of the lake with broken shells on the beach and the smell of dead zebra mussels."

"The one certainty we know of is if we do not take action things will get worse," he said.

The mussels were first found last fall on the hull of a private boat and a dock at Winnipeg Beach, and on some fishing boats dry-docked at Gimli. The freshwater mollusc, native to southern Russia, arrived in North America decades ago and recently became established in the Red River watershed south of the border. If left to thrive, the mussels could contribute to the growth of green-algae blooms on the lake, curb production of certain fish species and foul beaches. Because of their ability to attach to solid objects like boats and docks, they can also clog water-treatment-plant intake pipes and effluent-discharge pipes.

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