Protecting Alberta's Irrigation Infrastructure Against the Threat of Aquatic Invasive Mussels

Subscribe to our free E-Newsletter, "Agri-News" (formerly RTW This Week)Agri-News
This Week
 Invasive mussels | Prevent the spread | Protecting Alberta's irrigation infrastructure | Monitoring programs | Field research using potassium chloride to control mussels | Dreissenid mussels and Alberta's irrigation infrastructure | For more information

Invasive Mussels

Zebra and quagga mussels are small, freshwater invasive mollusks, which are two aquatic invasive species (AIS) of significant, immediate concern, particularly for the irrigation industry. Though not currently considered present in Alberta, once these mussels are introduced to a water body, they adhere to virtually any hard surface in the water, including docks, boats, and infrastructure such as water treatment or conveyance works.

Zebra mussels are native to the Black, Caspian, and Azov seas in Eastern Europe, and quagga mussels are native to the Denieper River Drainage in the Ukraine. These invasive mussels were introduced to the Great Lakes (1989), and have spread to Lake Winnipeg (2013), and Tiber Reservoir in Montana (2016).
Invasive mussels have a mobile veliger larval stage, and a sessile adult stage with a carbonate shell that attaches to hard surfaces using byssal threads. The byssal threads allow these mussels an advantage over native mussels, which do not attach. Invasive mussels threaten ecosystems as the species rapid reproduction rates result in high population densities.

Prevent the Spread!

Invasive mussels are typically transported on trailered watercraft from infested waters as attached adults or as microscopic veligers in ballast waters and bait buckets. Because several of southern Alberta’s popular boating lakes are irrigation reservoirs, the threat of an invasive mussel infestation is a concern to the irrigation industry. Prevention is the best management strategy for invasive mussels because control options are limited and costly. Everyone can work together to keep invasive mussels out of Alberta by following the clean, drain, dry rule after leaving a waterbody. The continued vigilance for invasive mussels is a key component of the prevention program. Report any observations of invasive species to the AIS hotline 1-855-336-BOAT (2628).

Clean –– Remove any mud, vegetation, and animals from your boat, trailer, and recreational equipment before transporting it from the waterbody. Thoroughly inspect for signs of residual debris or mussels. Clean all fishing equipment including waders and boots.

Drain –– Completely drain your recreational watercraft of all water, check live wells, bilge tanks, bait containers, and engine cooling areas for water. Mussel veligers can survive in residual water, which can be transported to an un-affected waterbody. “Pull the Plug” – it’s the law!

Dry –– Allow your recreational watercraft and equipment to completely dry before use in another waterbody.

Protecting Alberta’s Irrigation Infrastructure

Alberta is the irrigation capital of Canada. The irrigated area within the province represents 65% of the total irrigated area in Canada. Most of the irrigated area in Alberta is within 13 irrigation districts. There are more than 8,000 kilometres of conveyance works and more than 50 water storage reservoirs devoted to managing southern Alberta’s finite water resources. Approximately half of the conveyance system has been converted to pipelines, and more canals will be converted to pipelines in the future. The detrimental effects of mussels are a particular concern for pipelines. The value of the irrigation infrastructure is about $3.6 billion. This figure does not include the investments of irrigators for their water supply lines and pivots, which would also be at risk with an invasive mussel infestation.
The potential implications of invasive mussel establishment in Alberta is a concern, not only for water management infrastructure, but also for recreational opportunities and the aquatic environment. Invasive mussels outcompete native species, affect water quality, and litter beaches with sharp shells. Effects are far reaching environmentally, socially, and economically.

Monitoring Programs

The Water Quality Section of Alberta Agriculture and Forestry (AF) works jointly with the irrigation districts and Alberta Environment and Parks to perform substrate monitoring, veliger sampling, and provide technical guidance for irrigation infrastructure monitoring.

Continuum of monitoring options for invasive mussels in irrigation infrastructure.

Infrastructure monitoring

The best place to start with monitoring is to walk water infrastructure during drawdown or dry periods. This monitoring permits large areas with continuous water exposure to be quickly checked, thereby making it the best approach to cover the greatest area with the shortest amount of time and resources. The irrigation districts and Alberta Environment and Parks operations staff were encouraged to begin monitoring infrastructure at the end of the water season in 2015.

PVC Substrate Monitoring

Artificial substrates are annually installed in the reservoirs by irrigation district staff. Substrates are checked monthly by irrigation district staff throughout the operational season and reports are submitted to AF and results are shared with Alberta Environment and Parks. All substrate monitoring results have been negative for the presence of invasive mussels during the 2013 to 2016 recreational seasons.

Veliger Monitoring

The Water Quality Section of AF has actively participated in monitoring efforts for the presence of invasive mussel veligers in southern Alberta’s irrigation reservoirs. Twenty-one irrigation reservoirs were defined as high risk for AIS introduction due to recreational boat traffic. During the past four years, Alberta Environment and Parks has included sampling for mussel veligers as part of their annual lake water quality monitoring program. However, in a given year, only a few of the 21 high-risk reservoirs are sampled. To fill the gap, AF carries out a supplementary monitoring program to ensure that all 21 reservoirs are sampled annually. For three seasons (2013, 2014, and 2015), veliger sampling using the provincial surface water plankton collection protocol was completed in each of the identified reservoirs using a motorized boat. In 2016, the veliger monitoring methods were revised so that a boat was not required. All veliger sampling results have been negative for the presence of invasive mussels from 2013 to 2016.

Invasive mussel veliger sampling.

Field Research Using Potassium Chloride to Control Mussels

Eastern Irrigation District and AF have undertaken research to develop potassium chloride (KCl) injection methods in order to protect Alberta’s irrigation infrastructure against the potential introduction of zebra and quagga mussels. The potassium ion (K+) was chosen as a treatment method because of supporting research on the effectiveness of K+ application to cause invasive mussel mortality. The objective of the research are:
(1) Develop and test KCl preparation methods and pipeline injection equipment,
(2) Determine how to ensure a steady concentration of 100 mg L-1 of K+ in pipelines,
(3) Document and assess the irrigation of KCl-treated water on soil and crop health; and.
(4) Confirm economic costs and considerations for treating Alberta’s irrigation systems with KCl.

Examples of pipes fouled by invasive mussels.

Preparing the Potassium Chloride Solution

Granular potash fertilizer (0:0:60; N:P:K) was mixed with potable water at a rate of 0.3 kg L-1, and mixed to form a clear concentrated stock solution of KCl. The KCl stock solution was further diluted for use in two field studies in 2016.

Preparation of potassium chloride stock solution for injection into irrigation pipelines.

Pipeline Field Study

In cooperation with the Eastern Irrigation District (EID), AF completed a field study to develop methods for injection of a KCl solution into an underground irrigation pipeline and pivot. East Branch 15 within the County of Newell near Brooks, Alberta was chosen as a study site. The field study allowed the application and field testing of methods to obtain a target concentration of K+ for a specified period within the test pipeline.

East Branch 15 irrigation pipeline field trial.

Small-plot Study

A small-plot study was initiated by AF to investigate the effects of fertigation of KCl on soil chemistry and crop yield and quality. The small-plot study is being performed at the Alberta Irrigation Technology Centre at Lethbridge, Alberta, and will continue in 2017.
The results of the field, and small-plot studies will be published in a report by AF in 2017.
A factsheet, which describes the methodology used in the studies, was prepared in November 2016 titled Potash as a Treatment Option for Invasive Mussels: Protecting Alberta’s irrigation infrastructure.

Small-plot study.

Dreissenid Mussels and Alberta's Irrigation Infrastructure
- A report on Strategic Pest Management Plan and Cost Estimate

A 10-month study was carried out to develop a strategic pest management plan and cost estimate for invasive mussels if they should become established in Alberta’s irrigation infrastructure. Under contract through the Eastern Irrigation District, the study was carried out by Paterson Earth & Water Consulting Ltd., with funding support from Alberta Innovates –– Water Innovation Program.

The study focussed on five key objectives:

    1. Assess the potential for dreissenid mussels to develop and grow in Alberta’s irrigation water supply reservoirs and irrigation distribution systems.
    2. Assess additional prevention techniques to minimize the potential for dreissenid mussels to establish in Alberta’s irrigation water supply reservoirs.
    3. Prepare a strategic pest management plan for the irrigation districts for a coordinated invasive mussel control program.
    4. Develop a range of dreissenid mussel management and treatment approaches for injecting potassium chloride into irrigation district water supply pipelines, and irrigation producer-owned water supply pipelines and on-farm irrigation systems.
    5. Prepare estimates of the annual operational costs associated with potassium chloride treatment approaches in the 13 irrigation districts.

The final report (Dreissenid Mussels and Alberta's Irrigation Infrastructure -- A report on Strategic Pest Management Plan and Cost Estimate) outlines nine main conclusions and eight recommendations.

For More Information

Barry Olson
Alberta Agriculture and Forestry
Lethbridge, Alberta
Toll free 310-0000
Phone: 403-381-5884

Share via
For more information about the content of this document, contact Barry Olson.
This document is maintained by Bonnie Hofer.
This information published to the web on December 11, 2014.
Last Reviewed/Revised on February 20, 2018.