By Keith Lacey
Special to OsoyoosToday
There is renewed hope the longstanding practice of roto-tilling and harvesting Eurasian milfoil in Osoyoos Lake and other waterways across the South and Central Okanagan will be allowed to continue.
The federal government’s Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans released that recommendation in late June, says Dr. Anna Warwick Sears, the executive director of the Okanagan Basin Water Board (OBWB).
Back in April, Dr. Warwick Sears was invited to make a presentation in Ottawa to the standing committee to discuss numerous subjects, including a federal decision to eliminate or greatly reduce the roto-tilling program on Osoyoos Lake, Skaha Lake, Okanagan Lake and Kalamalka Lake near Vernon.
Ms. Warwick Sears addressed recent studies suggesting the roto-tilling program threatened the non-invasive, but endangered Rocky Mountain Ridge mussel, found exclusively in the Okanagan region.
‘I specifically asked for an exemption that would allow us to continue our roto-tilling efforts,” she said. “Thankfully, the standing committee’s recommendations last week included supporting our program. It was one of nine recommendations.
“We’re encouraged but we don’t know how the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Ministry of Environment, which is also involved, will respond to that recommendation, but we are hopeful. It remains under review right now.”
There’s a movement to have the Rocky Mountain Ridge mussel recognized as endangered under the federal Species at Risk Act and this could greatly hinder the OBWB’s roto-tilling program, she explained.
The OBWB maintains the majority of these mussels are found in the Okanagan River Channel, which isn’t part of the roto-tilling program, she said.
There hasn’t been any dramatic decrease in the numbers of Rocky Mountain Ridge mussels over the past three decades since roto-tilling of milfoil began in Osoyoos Lake, so she’s convinced the program should continue, said Ms. Warwick Sears.
The consequences of eliminating or greatly reducing rototilling and harvesting milfoil would be dire, she said.
“The weeds would continue to grow up from the lake bottom … and the process of growing and rotting without the haircut we give would diminish the water quality,” she said.
“Over time, it would make the lake habitat intolerable for the endangered mussels they’re trying to protect. If the mussels are still there and doing fine after we’ve been rototilling for 30 years, it’s our position they’re going to continue to be fine.”