Sicamous area blighted by blood suckers

Mosquitoes are putting the bite on Sicamous tourism and raising more than welts with the locals.

Silver Sands Road resident Carol Arbuthnott dawns a mesh coat to protect her from the infestation of mosquitoes that currently plague the district.

Mosquitoes are putting the bite on Sicamous tourism and raising more than welts with the locals.

And the company hired to keep the annoying insects in check is unable to provide treatment.

“I think I’d like to have some councillors over by the river, naked, with no bug spray,” laughs Carol Arbuthnott, a Silver Sands Road resident, who had been trying to ready her property for the weekend garden tour.  “They’re just bad, bad, bad – they’re in swarms – it doesn’t matter if it’s hot, rainy or cold, and if you go near the bushes, God help you. You may not come back.”

Arbuthnott says even her bug suit is not keeping the bloodthirsty bugs at bay.

A Silver Sands Road resident since 1971, Epp Dejong says he hasn’t seen so many mosquitoes since the flood of 1972.

“They are just thicker than hell,” he said.  “You can stick your arm out and wipe them off, then go back and wipe off six more.”

Epp said that last Wednesday, on a beautiful, hot, sunny Shuswap day, only nine cars were parked in the lot by the beach at 9 a.m. but were gone by 11.

And that’s not all that’s gone.

Terry Sinton volunteers at the Houseboat Tourism Kiosk on the Trans-Canada Highway and says tourists have left the area because of the swarming hoards.

Calls to the District of Sicamous are being redirected to BWP Consulting, the company that has the contract to control mosquitoes in the District of Sicamous, Salmon Arm, much of the North Okanagan and all the Central Okanagan regional districts.

Sinton was not reassured by the information provided by BWP.

“They told me they’re not doing anything over in the Silver Sands area because of the high water, but don’t worry, they’ll be gone in two weeks,” says Sinton. “She also told me the mosquito larva they’re finding now are not the vicious biting kind but they’ve sure been biting me. You step out into the parking lot at Parkland Mall and they’re all over you.”

BWP Consulting owner Cheryl Phippen agrees the mosquitoes that are driving people away or inside are particularly aggressive, but says her hands are tied where treating the Silver Sands area is concerned.

Cooler than normal temperatures and higher snowpacks have raised the level of the lake, flooding parking lots and green spaces that are normally dry.

BWP treats 200 sites in Sicamous on a regular basis and what in normal years comprises 12 sites, is one big waterhole now.

“Everything is under water and full of incredibly dense larvae,” she says, noting BWP counts the number of larva contained in a 500-ml. scoop and treats the water site for nuisance control if there are more than three per scoop.

“In a normal year, we would get upwards of 50 to 70 larva per dip,” she says, noting the aggressive mosquitoes known as Aedes flood-water mosquitoes  lay their eggs in soil, which then have to be wet in order to hatch. “We got over 6,000 larvae per dipper and if we killed 99 per cent, we’d  still have 60 per dipper.”

She estimates some of the eggs could be as old as 30 years, emerging this year only because water has finally reached them.

These flood-water mosquitoes are extremely short-lived, and hatch within hours of getting wet because they know the ponds are temporary.

“They normally die within two weeks, that’s why they’re so aggressive – they come out, they swarm, they die,” says Phippen. “But they haven’t been dying off because there’s been no hot sun.”

And BWP’s hands-off approach in the Silver Sands area is not what they want either. Because the lake water flooded over a berm, connecting to a temporary body of water (puddle), the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans prohibits treatment – even though the larvacide is safe enough for humans or fish to eat, says Phippen.

DFO sees the mosquitoes as potential food for fish that might have  swum into the puddles at high water.

Phippen has spent hours trying to get help from DFO but says there is now only one officer for this area where once there were seven and he has had to direct her to Environment Canada for a ruling.

That department advised her that they are also swamped and don’t deal with pesticide issues any more.

So Phippen has turned to the provincial government for assistance.

“The Ministry of Environment (MOE) says I cannot treat permanent water with fish or water that is permanently contiguous with fish-bearing waters,” she says. “The reason MOE writes it up that way is because when the lake drops, all the fish on the dry side are doomed anyway. So, under their laws, I am OK to go.”

Unfortunately, treating the mosquitoes without getting federal approval could cost Phippen her company.

And fogging the narrow spit on which Silver Sands Road is located is not a viable option either.

“I need 100 metres on either side of my truck but the river is on one side and the lake is on the other,” she says.

While the Aedes plague will die off soon, two other species will remain throughout the season.

And there is a good-news, bad-news story.

“Now what we’re seeing is Culex tarsalis, mosquitoes that lay eggs on the water and prefer to bite birds,” Phippen says. “In the past we ignored them, but now West Nile is a potential, the plan is to kill them just in case.”

Phippen says the mosquitoes don’t have the virus but could pick it up from an infected bird and then bite a human.

But, she adds, they may be long-lived but they are not aggressive human biters.

BWP will also treat Culex pipiens because they too carry West Nile.

Phippen’s company applies larvacide in Salmon Arm only for West Nile prevention, while in Sicamous, work is done both for West Nile prevention and nuisance control.

Phippen will be explaining the mosquito situation tonight, Wednesday, July 13, at 7 in council chambers at the new municipal hall.

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