The threat of invasive mussels continues to have a ripple effect on lake management plans in the area.
At Groundhog Reservoir, north of Dolores, recreation manager Bonnie Candelaria reached an agreement this week with the Montezuma Valley Irrigation Co. to allow limited motorized boat access.
Motorized boats not over 18 feet with a maximum 20 horsepower outboard motor will be allowed on the lake after passing a boat inspection for mussels at the boat ramp during operating hours.
Boat inspection hours are limited to Fridays from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. Inspections will cost $20 per boat, and motorized access will be from May 15 to Aug. 31.
“We negotiated a way to protect the irrigation water while also allowing boating for our customers,” she said. “During our fishing tournaments, we will have the ramps open longer.”
Boats that have passed inspected at McPhee Reservoir stations and have an unbroken permit tag will also be allowed to launch during open ramp times.
“We set it up so boats can arrive Friday night, get inspected and be set for a weekend of boating,” Candelaria said.
Certain nonmotorized boats will be allowed to launch onto Groundhog Lake without inspections at any time. The list of nonmotorized includes kayaks, canoes, rafts, belly boats, paddle boards, sailboards, windsurfer boards, inner tubes and float tubes. Users must clean, drain and dry the boats before and after being in the water.
As part of the agreement, Candelaria will be allowed to have two pontoon boats available for rentals, but the boats must stay on the lake.
Candelaria and her staff became certified boat inspectors through the Colorado Parks and Wildlife aquatic nuisance prevention program. They have a recreation lease with the irrigation company to operate campgrounds and lake activities.
“The public has to understand that the irrigation company has to protect its water,” Candelaria said. “Instead of banning motorized, we were proactive and got certified to inspect boats, but we can’t afford the costs to inspect all the time.”
Montezuma Valley Irrigation refuses to allow noninspected motorized boats on its water, said manager Brandon Johnson. The company recently closed Narraguinnep Reservoir to motorized craft because the lake has no inspection program. And Totten Lake, owned by Dolores Water Conservancy District, is closed to motorized craft because it lacks inspections. Both lakes are open to the list of nine nonmotorized craft, but users must clean, drain and dry their boats before and after they are in the water, and can only hand-launch them.
The threat of the mussel — which attaches to boats from infected lakes and is carried in standing water and engines — alarms the irrigation districts because they clog critical infrastructure and cannot be eliminated once a waterway becomes infested.
Because boat engines take in and hold water, they are a major vector for the mussel contamination. Mussel larvae can live up to 28 days in standing water.
Colorado is officially mussel-free, but it is surrounded by states that have infected lakes, including Lake Powell and Lake Mead.
This season, a mussel-infected boat was intercepted at McPhee Reservoir and Ridgway Reservoir. A houseboat parked on Mancos Hill was infested with mussels and quarantined for cleaning by Colorado Parks and Wildlife. It was heading to Navajo Lake, which is mussel-free.
“The expense of dealing with a mussel contamination in our system would be huge, so we are focusing on prevention,” Johnson said.