A measure that passed the U.S. Senate on Wednesday includes a provision secured by U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., to enlist the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the battle against invasive mussels in local waters through inspection of watercraft.
The language in the 2018 Water Resources Development Act, a bill passed by a 99-1 vote, directs the Corps of Engineers to establish, operate and maintain new or existing boat inspection stations to help prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species in the Upper Colorado, South Platte and Arkansas river basins. It also authorizes the Corps of Engineers to help states with rapid response efforts in the case of a quagga or zebra mussel infestation.
Colorado is one of just a few states in the West free of adult zebra and quagga mussels, Colorado Parks and Wildlife says. The animals attach to boats and docks, clog water-delivery systems for irrigation and power generation, harm water quality and degrade beaches, CPW says.
CPW operates a decade-old aquatic nuisance species inspection and decontamination program. As of a Sept. 26 news release from the agency, inspectors had intercepted 47 boats contaminated by zebra and quagga mussels this year, compared to a previous annual record of 26. More than 145 boats infested with adult mussels have been intercepted since 2008.
Boats contaminated with mussels have been found this year during inspections across the state, including at water bodies in and around Mesa County.
Thirty-six of the 47 mussels-contaminated boats intercepted this year came from Lake Powell. That reservoir has seen an explosion in mussels numbers in recent years, and low water levels due to drought have meant more contact between mussels and boats that can then become contaminated with them.
CPW inspectors had conducted more than 435,000 inspections this year through late September.
In April, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a bill providing $2.4 million in funding for the aquatic nuisance species program for 2019 and future years.
"Aquatic invasive species pose a serious threat to headwater states like Colorado — damaging water infrastructure and harming ecosystems," Bennet said in a news release Wednesday. "… Additional inspection stations will bolster our state's efforts to prevent an infestation and protect local economies."
CPW director Bob Broscheid said in the release, "This is a positive step forward to protect our nation's headwaters against zebra and quagga mussels and other harmful invaders. Federal and state partnerships are critical to maintain Colorado's aggressive invasive species prevention program."
While Colorado is mussels-free, Elizabeth Brown, CPW's invasive species coordinator, said recently that Asian clams are known to cause problems in irrigation and sprinkler systems in Grand Junction.
She said Asian clams were first found in Colorado in 1993 and are very widespread. They lack threads needed to attach to surfaces like zebra and quagga mussels can, but can be moved by watercraft because their juveniles are microscopic and free-floating in water, she said.