Why are motorized and trailered watercraft allowed in Waterton Lakes National Park again?

Motorised power boating is a long standing activity on Waterton Lakes, for which the Canada National Parks Act provides authority to permit. Power boating was removed because of a threat of contamination from invasive aquatic mussels. Now that that threat can be fully managed, Parks Canada has determined power boats can return.

Who is managing the sealing program?

Improvement District #4 is managing the sealing program. For more information on this program, visit the Improvement District #4 website.

Is the 90-day quarantine an effective method for preventing the spread of invasive mussels?

Yes. Preventing invasive mussels from entering Waterton Lakes National Park is still our top priority. The quarantine program was developed with this in mind, while providing a fair solution for recreational boaters.

What authority does Parks Canada have to make this decision?

Parks Canada manages Waterton Lakes National Park consistent with the expectations of Canadians as reflected in the Waterton Lakes National Park Management Plan, and the Canada National Parks Act. Authority to manage motorized watercraft access is set out in the National Park General Regulations (sections 7 and 21). Motorized watercraft are not permitted unless authorized by the Superintendent. The quarantine procedure is the only method in which motorized watercraft will be allowed back in Waterton Lakes National Park.

Are invasive mussels still a threat?

Yes. Preventing invasive mussels from entering Waterton Lakes National Park is still our top priority. The quarantine program was developed with this in mind, while providing a fair solution for recreational boaters.

Do non-motorized watercraft still follow the same self-inspection rules as in the 2018 season?

At this time, human-powered watercraft, including canoes, kayaks and other hand-launched watercraft will continue to be allowed on park waters, after users complete a mandatory self-inspection. Parks Canada is reviewing and assessing the effectiveness of the mandatory self-inspection program.

Where can I operate motorized or trailered watercraft in Waterton Lakes National Park?

These types of watercraft are permitted in Upper and Middle Waterton Lakes only, after the 90-day quarantine period has been completed.

Is there a penalty for launching a prohibited boat in Waterton Lakes National Park?

All motorized and trailered watercraft that have not undergone the 90-day seal and quarantine program will be considered a prohibited boat. Under the Canada National Parks Act the maximum penalty for a launching a prohibited boat in the park is $25,000. The offender can be arrested, their boat seized, and the offender will be compelled to attend court. If found guilty, in addition to the fine imposed by the court, the crown can seek forfeiture of the seized boat.

Invasive mussel FAQs
What are invasive mussels?

Invasive mussels, such as quagga and zebra mussels, are aquatic invasive species introduced from Europe into North America in 1980s. The fingernail-sized freshwater mollusk can produce millions of eggs and easily attach itself to objects such as boats and trailers. Their numbers can reach tens of thousands per square metre. Prodigious filter feeders, they strip nutrients from the water leaving little or no food for native species. This affects the entire food web, impacting the plant and animal life in the region, and altering water chemistry and water clarity. They are permanent and irreversible. No method, technology or natural predator exists to remove invasive mussels once established in a water body. Mussels can inadvertently be moved to a new location attached on boats, equipment and trailers. Standing or trapped water in boats is a concern because invasive mussels have a microscopic larval stage, allowing them to be present without being visible.

Where are invasive mussels found?

Invasive mussels are present in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, and 34 U.S. states, including Montana.

Are there invasive mussels in Waterton Lakes?

To date, invasive mussels have not been detected in Waterton Lakes National Park. Parks Canada regularly tests for invasive mussels, following similar protocols as the U.S. National Parks Service in Glacier National Park and Alberta Environment and Parks. This includes visual testing for invasive mussels and active monitoring for invasive mussel veligers (larval stage).

Have invasive mussels been found near Waterton Lakes National Park?

The larvae of these aquatic invasive species (AIS) were detected in the Tiber Reservoir in Montana, which is about a half-day’s drive from Waterton. Parks Canada concluded that prohibition of motorized and trailered watercraft was the most effective way to protect the ecological integrity of the Waterton Lakes and downstream areas while a solution was developed.

The biggest risk of invasive mussel contamination in Waterton is transfer from infested areas in power boats, trailered boats and the trailers. Standing or trapped water in these vessels is a concern because invasive mussels have a microscopic larval stage, allowing them to be present without being visible. This is why these watercraft were prohibited from use in Waterton before the quarantine program was developed.

What are the impacts of invasive mussel contamination?

Parks Canada is responsible for protecting the lakes, rivers and streams in Waterton Lakes National Park. Invasive mussel contamination poses a significant threat to the park’s unique ecology, by depleting nutrients available for native species, which affects the entire food web, and altering water chemistry and quality.

In addition to the significant ecological effects, invasive mussels are known to cause extensive economic and visitor experience impacts by clogging water intake structures, dams, water treatment facilities, hydro power facilities, docks, breakwaters, buoys, boats and beaches.

The headwaters of the South Saskatchewan River Basin are in Waterton Lakes National Park. The downstream risk of invasive mussel contamination in Waterton threatens: the extensive irrigation network that supports southern Alberta’s significant agricultural industry; infrastructure that supports water supply for multiple jurisdictions, including the cities of Lethbridge and Medicine Hat; and the ecological health for multiple recreational areas.

A 2015 report by the Pacific Northwest Economic Region estimates that the cost of failing to prevent mussel contamination in the region would exceed $500 million (USD) annually. Alberta estimates the potential annual cost of contamination at $75 million.

What can people do to help prevent the spread of invasive mussels or other AIS?

Prevention is essential. In addition to completing the mandatory self-inspection permit before using human-powered watercraft, scuba gear and fishing equipment in park waters, people need to adhere to the Clean, Drain, Dry program, following these steps:

  • Clean - Clean and inspect watercraft and gear (including fishing and SCUBA equipment)
  • Drain- Drain buckets, ballasts, bilges, coolers, internal compartments, and other containers that may hold trapped or standing water.
  • Dry - Dry the watercraft and gear completely between trips and leave compartments open and sponge out standing water.
How else is Parks Canada working to protect Waterton from aquatic invasive species (AIS)?

Parks Canada staff, outside researchers and contractors follow best practices and a stringent decontamination protocol for gear and equipment when working in aquatic environments.

Parks Canada is collaborating closely with the U.S. National Park Service and Alberta Environment and Parks to monitor for invasive mussels and other AIS. Parks Canada also provides information to the public so people can learn about this serious issue and contribute to protecting the park’s aquatic environment.

What is the U.S. National Park Service doing in Glacier NP?

Parks Canada is collaborating closely with the U.S. National Park Service in Glacier National Park to monitor for invasive mussels. For more information on the U.S. National Park Service’s boating requirements and invasive mussel prevention in Glacier National Park, visit: https://www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/ais.htm

Self-inspection FAQs
What types of watercraft require self-inspection before being used in Waterton Lakes National Park?

Anything items that go into park waters, including human-powered and most wind-powered watercraft, fishing equipment, SCUBA gear, inflatables and water toys require self-inspection, including:

  • canoes
  • kayaks
  • paddle boards
  • kite boards
  • windsurfers and kiteboards
  • row boats
  • inflatable watercraft
  • fish equipment (nets, waders, poles)
  • SCUBA gear
  • water toys, inflatables and Personal Floatation Devices (PFDs)
How does the self-inspection permit system work?

Visitors must complete a mandatory self-inspection of their human-powered watercraft or other items before entering park waters. The self-inspection form acts as a permit. Watercraft users must ensure their permits are available for examination. Visitors complete the permit the first time they launch their human-powered watercraft in the park, but must comply with the permit conditions every time they launch thereafter.

Self-inspection forms will be available at the park gate, Visitor Reception Centre, Operations Building and Warden's Office, campgrounds, and select locations in town during the busy season. Permit stations will also be located throughout the park at boat launches and the most popular boating areas:

  • Cameron Bay
  • Emerald Bay Day Use Area
  • Windsurfer Beach
  • Maskinonge
  • Knight's Lake
  • Hay Barn Day Use Area
  • Waterton Bridge
  • Community Kitchen parking
  • Cameron Lake
  • Linnet Lake
  • Driftwood Beach
  • Waterton Marina
  • Belly River Campground
  • Belly River Bridge

Roving Parks Canada staff will be available to answer questions and ensure visitors understand the inspection process. Since the permit is a legal requirement, Park Wardens will be checking that visitors complete the self-inspection and will take appropriate action as necessary.

How will the information on the self-inspection permit be used?

Information will be gathered to determine the number and type of watercraft in the park, where the watercraft comes from, and will help quantify the risk of contamination. This data will help Parks Canada make management decisions that continue to protect Waterton Lakes National Park.

What other benefits does the self-inspection permit program provide?

The self-inspection permit provides Parks Canada with another point of contact with people recreating in and on the water. Through the permit we communicate about the threat of invasive mussel contamination, encourage the public to follow the Clean, Drain, Dry program, and raise public awareness about everyone’s responsibility to help protect the aquatic environment.