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Province's battle against zebra mussels continues

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A bid to control the spread of zebra mussels in Lake Winnipeg appears to have been successful.

Conservation and Water Stewardship Minister Gord Mackintosh said today the potassium treatment of four harbours over the past few weeks killed sample mussels put in the water by officials.

If those mussels died, so too did any others in the four harbours.

Mackintosh said efforts now focus on determining if the mussels are anywhere else in the lake.

Provincial officials also issued a plea to lake users to be on the lookout for zebra mussels this summer and report immediately to the province if they find any.

"Now it's time for all lake users to join the fight and increase their vigilance to ensure we don't give these intruders a certain foothold in Lake Winnipeg," Mackintosh said.

The Winnipeg Beach, Gimli, Arnes and Balsam Bay harbours were treated with potassium-containing liquid potash and are now all open to the public without restrictions.

Macintosh said Manitoba Hydro has purchased three portable decontamination units, valued at approximately $85,000, to prevent the spread of the mussels on boats coming from out-of-province. It will bring the total number of units in the province to five.

The decontamination units are high-heat, high-pressure mobile units that purge aquatic invasive species from undersides of boats entering Manitoba.

"Manitoba Hydro wants to stop the spread of zebra mussels," Manitoba Hydro president Scott Thomson said in a statement. "The impact they could have on our generating stations is significant."

Zebra mussels have not been detected on the Winnipeg River system where Hydro has a series of generating stations.

The decontamination units will be stationed at locations such as Manitoba border entry points and busy launch sites such as Gimli, Winnipeg Beach and Selkirk Park to reduce the possibility of further transfer.

In addition to watercraft inspections, the province is also increasing lake monitoring.

Mackintosh said throughout the summer, hundreds of samples will be taken from numerous locations throughout Lake Winnipeg including the treated harbours. Other high-risk water bodies will be sampled based on boat traffic. Docks and dry-docked boats within the treated harbours and navigations buoys will be inspected in the fall. This includes the Namao research vessel which is based at Gimli.

He added boaters could be fined up $100,000 for possessing or releasing invasive species like zebra mussels in Manitoba.

Progressive Conservative critic Shannon Martin said the increased surveillance for zebra mussels is welcome, but that it may have taken the government too long to deal with aquatic pests. Zebra mussels in Lake Winnipeg were first detected last fall.  

"You ask any of the scientists involved, once zebra mussels get into the water system I think they’re here for good," Martin said. "The announcement of a longer-term strategy is long overdue."

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