Ken Curtis, of the Dolores Water Conservancy District, spoke to the Cortez City Council during a Tuesday workshop on the latest efforts to keep invasive mussels out of McPhee Reservoir.
Zebra and quagga mussels, “aquatic nuisance species” that were first confirmed in Colorado in 2008, have infested lakes and reservoirs across the country, and McPhee is considered at very high risk of becoming their next habitat. These mussels are transported to new areas by clinging to boats and other watercraft, and they can wreak havoc on pipes, water filtration equipment and power plants.
Funding for the state’s ANS Program, designed to prevent infestation by these species, was cut in May of 2016, so Curtis said his district is trying to improve on its current mussel management plan through more public outreach and boat inspection.
Most of the mussels that have been found in Colorado came from Lake Powell on the border between Arizona and Utah. Boats are supposed to be inspected whenever they leave that lake, Curtis said, but that rule can be difficult to enforce. Most large lakes in Colorado have started conducting their own inspections to avoid getting infested.
“Prevention is what we’re after,” Curtis said. “What we’re doing is locking down the access.”
Mussel infestations can clog pipes and significantly damage equipment. Colorado Parks and Wildlife estimated that invasive mussels cause up to $500 million in damage per year in the eastern United States, where they are most prevalent.
The district plans to put up gates at the reservoir’s boat ramps during the boating season this year. The gates will be staffed by inspectors during the day and locked at night. From May to October, the main boat ramp will be open seven days a week, but the House Creek ramp will only be open four days a week during peak season.
To implement their plan, the Conservancy District is partnering with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Forest Service and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
Curtis is also working with Phil Johnson and Richard Landreth of the Cortez Public Works Department to keep the city’s water plant mussel-free. He said the rest of the city council can help by educating the public. He held up Minnesota as an example, since water districts there have managed to keep most of the state’s roughly 11,000 lakes clean, mainly by putting up signs and running education campaigns on the dangers of invasive species.