Zebra Mussel Pilot Project successful, but leaves RM of Alexander Council with much to consider

By Don Norman

On Tuesday June 25th the RM of Alexander in cooperation with Manitoba Sustainable Development (Conservation) conducted a pilot test project for Zebra Mussel cleanup near Hillside Beach.

The intent of the pilot project was to assess the effectiveness of beach cleaning equipment on a limited scale test to see whether it would be feasible to implement a long-term program.

The small, filter-feeding mussels, which spread and reproduce quickly, were first found in Lake Winnipeg in October 2013.

Despite efforts by the Manitoba government to control the problem, including dumping tonnes of liquid potash into the lake in 2014, the invasive species has started littering the beaches with its shells.

The RM of Alexander release a report at their July 9 meeting. The report noted that the 7-hour cleaning operation resulted in approximately 400 feet by 24 feet of cleaned and approximately 10 yards of material (zebra mussels and other beach debris) was removed (about 30,000 lbs).

The RM of Alexander report estimated the cost of this pilot project, at $6,700 for supplies, equipment rental and labour.

As can be seen in the before and after pictures, the beach looks much better aesthetically after the clean up, but it is difficult to know how long the beach will remain free of mussels. “Wind and wave action in the lake could result in mussels being deposited back on the beach in as little as one day. In other words, the expenditure of $6,700 might help things look better for days or weeks, there is simply no way of knowing and this is a risk.” Noted the report.

The report listed a number of takeaways for future consideration. Included in this section of the report it was noted that it was discovered that certain variables could complicate or simplify the cleanup process: sand conditions; build up of mussels; beach terrain; beach access; and most crucially, transporting and disposing of the mussels after clean up.

The clean up methods they used were the same as have been used in Grand Beach Provincial Park, beach conditions at the park and the ability to bury the beach debris on site, make the process could be more efficient there. The RM of Alexander discussed the details of the Report at their last council meeting on July 9.

These high tech methods of removal can be pretty costly when you figure in that wind and water flow could bring new mussels back the next day. The RM would have to secure the equipment (the province leant them their equipment on a one-off basis for the pilot project), and allocate significant funds towards cleanup if this was to become the plan moving forward.

There are some low-tech efforts being attempted by community members in the area as well. Last year, a group of volunteers began cleaning zebra mussels off of Lester Beach using rakes and makeshift sifters. They loaded up mussels into a sled and dumped them on a remote corner of the beach.

On Tuesday June 25th the RM of Alexander in cooperation with Manitoba Sustainable Development (Conservation) conducted a pilot test project for Zebra Mussel cleanup near Hillside Beach.

The intent of the pilot project was to assess the effectiveness of beach cleaning equipment on a limited scale test to see whether it would be feasible to implement a long-term program.

The small, filter-feeding mussels, which spread and reproduce quickly, were first found in Lake Winnipeg in October 2013.

Despite efforts by the Manitoba government to control the problem, including dumping tonnes of liquid potash into the lake in 2014, the invasive species has started littering the beaches with its shells.

The RM of Alexander release a report at their July 9 meeting. The report noted that the 7-hour cleaning operation resulted in approximately 400 feet by 24 feet of cleaned and approximately 10 yards of material (zebra mussels and other beach debris) was removed (about 30,000 lbs).

The RM of Alexander report estimated the cost of this pilot project, at $6,700 for supplies, equipment rental and labour.

As can be seen in the before and after pictures, the beach looks much better aesthetically after the clean up, but it is difficult to know how long the beach will remain free of mussels. “Wind and wave action in the lake could result in mussels being deposited back on the beach in as little as one day. In other words, the expenditure of $6,700 might help things look better for days or weeks, there is simply no way of knowing and this is a risk.” Noted the report.

The report listed a number of takeaways for future consideration. Included in this section of the report it was noted that it was discovered that certain variables could complicate or simplify the cleanup process: sand conditions; build up of mussels; beach terrain; beach access; and transporting mussels after clean up.

The clean up methods they used were the same as have been used in Grand Beach Provincial Park, beach conditions at the park and the ability to bury the beach debris on site, make the process could be more efficient there. The RM of Alexander discussed the details of the Report at their last council meeting on July 9.

“No conclusive decisions:” RM of Alexander Councillor, Cheryhl Corrie

These high tech methods of removal can be pretty costly when you figure in that wind and water flow could bring new mussels back the next day. The RM would have to secure the equipment (the province loaned them their equipment on a one-off basis for the pilot project), and allocate significant funds towards cleanup if this was to become the plan moving forward.

RM of Alexander Councillor, Cheryhl Corrie noted that this was just a pilot project and no conclusive decisions have come out of it yet. “We need to assess which beaches in the area would even be eligible for such work to be done (ie sandy not pebbly or rocky?). Then do we need to go through the permitting process each time?  Are there other options? How long does it last before we have to clean up again?  Can we find partners?   Can we find a use for the mussels instead of just burying them or throwing them in the waste disposal grounds?  There is a lot to consider and do research into which we are doing now.”

There are some low-tech efforts being attempted by community members in the area as well. Last year, a group of volunteers began cleaning zebra mussels off of Lester Beach using rakes and makeshift sifters. They loaded up mussels into a sled and dumped them on a remote corner of the beach.