Zebra mussels: scarier than Jurassic Park.

The Don't Move a Mussel muscle shirts have been a big hit.

“They’ll clump on rock, they’ll clump in pipe, and they’ll clump mussel-next-to-mussel-atop-mussel in astonishing congregations of as many as 70,000 individuals a square foot” – Sue McGrath

It’s hard to get people excited about invisible threats that haven’t arrived yet, but sometimes that’s what you have to do.

Let’s make a list of undesirable things: salmon extinctions, toxic algae blooms, beach closures, clogged water intakes and storm drains, botulism toxin… The unpleasantries associated with the small but numerous zebra and quagga mussels are many and varied. Continue reading

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Eating our water: no place for complacency on World Water Day

By 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world’s population could be living under water stressed conditions. The lack of water limits farmers’ ability to produce enough food to eat or earn a living.” – UN World Water Day 2012 website

One man roasting a goat, six others giving direction. Borrowed from Lizzie King, who has spent many years studying rangeland restoration with the Maasai of Kenya.

Water and Food Security is the theme of World Water Day – March 22nd, 2012. Every food crop, all meat production, and inland fisheries from Amsterdam to Zanzibar depend on water.

Here, food security once meant the annual migration of millions of sockeye, traveling up the Okanagan River. Fish, wild berries, and game were reliable food for Okanagan peoples for millennia. Now, with 300,000 people in the valley, food security is (like most other places) mostly about land and irrigation water. Continue reading

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Why I stopped worrying and learned to love Water Act Modernization

All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” ― Julian of Norwich

The other night I gave a talk to the North Okanagan Naturalists Club: a group of lively, mostly retired folks, interested in parks, birding and botany.  Given only half an hour, and asked to cover the spectrum of water issues, I bounced along topics relating to biology and the environment, trying to build a bridge between this nature theme and the nuts and bolts of water management.

A cross section of Okanagan aquifers, from the Okanagan Waterscape Poster ( see: www.obwb.ca/okanagan_waterscapes).

Hands shot up at the end of the talk, launching into a public discussion on natural resources.  Rather than fish and riparian restoration, the Naturalists wanted to talk about water agreements with the Americans, Okanagan population growth, and water law.

One woman in the third row, stood up and said, “What’s wrong with us? When are we ever going to regulate groundwater?”  While I don’t like to put a too positive spin on it, it felt good to say – “Water policy is slow to change, but I believe we will have this legislation in place in the next few years.” Right now, BC is reforming the century-old Water Act into the new Water Sustainability Act, and although we can debate the details, groundwater is one reason to rally behind getting it done. Continue reading

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No vacation in the Salmon Nation

All men are equal before fish.” – Herbert Hoover

Last week, I attended a workshop in Portland, Oregon, on the future of salmon under climate change.  Our delegation had been invited to talk about the resurgence of sockeye in the Okanagan River, and our experiences with collaboration. Scientists, managers, fishers, First Nations, and other friends of fish, gathered from around the north Pacific to talk about good news, bad news, and what’s possible. It was a diverse group from far-flung geography,  bound together by the need to manage salmon under rapidly changing conditions.

And while much of the conversation was focused on science, there was an important thread about values. What we protect and care for depends strongly on what we value as communities.

While there is uncertainty about the impacts of climate change in specific salmon areas, almost all models project the same outcome: warming waters, summer and winter. Warmer summer waters interfere with spawning, rearing, and migration – and can lead to fish kills in oxygen-poor water.  Warmer waters in winter (particularly in the ocean) could expand the range of salmon to the north as the sea ice breaks up; but this wouldn’t replace the loss of salmon to southern ecosystems and communities. Continue reading

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Good mussels, bad mussels, and environmental triage

In conclusion…there is a high risk of [zebra mussels] not only surviving in some parts of Okanagan Lake, but a high potential for massive infestations.”Gerald L. Mackie, 2010

Sometimes we need to do environmental triage – focusing on what’s most important, and what approaches are likely to succeed.

When water conditions are right, zebra mussels reproduce rapidly and can completely cover the shells of native mussels.

Lately I’ve been trying to get a better understanding of the situation with mussels in the lakes. There are two of immediate concern – a species native to the Okanagan, the Rocky Mountain ridged mussel, on the verge of local extinction, and an invasive – the zebra mussel, which is spreading rapidly across North America and heading this way.

These species are an example of how we grapple with management approaches and trade-offs, and the best course for protecting biodiversity for the whole ecosystem. Continue reading

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Osoyoos Lake: Live

It starts with the water. If you don’t have good water, the plants and animals will tell us we aren’t doing our job…They are an important part of our family – if a place doesn’t have plants and animals, it won’t have humans.” – Chief Clarence Louie, Osoyoos Lake Water Science Forum, September 18, 2011.

Welcome to the Salmon Nation.  One day into the Osoyoos Lake Water Science Forum and my head is filled with fish.  For thousands of years, the Okanagan people fished sockeye here. They are salmon people – with a territory stretching south to Oregon and north and east through the southern interior of BC.  We are here in Osoyoos this week to talk about a lot of different issues, but none more symbolic and integrative than the return of the sockeye.

Small girl, tiny dog, huge salmon.

The Osoyoos sockeye run is the eastern frontier for fish coming up the Columbia. The run used to reach far up the system, but dozens of smaller dams interrupted the passage. Last night, Chief Clarence Louie told a story about how when the Grand Coulee dam was completed, they invited the chiefs and dancers to come and celebrate in their regalia. “There is a picture of all these chiefs, standing and looking at the dam, and I just think, how sad that is, how mad and disappointed those chiefs must be, knowing that the dams have taken away the salmon.”Chief Clarence Louie giving a speech at the Desert Cultural Centre in Osoyoos, to mark the beginning of the 2011 Osoyoos Lake Water Science Forum Continue reading

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