As most people are taking precautions to avoid catching and spreading coronavirus, workers at Colorado’s lakes and reservoirs act just as methodically to prevent a different kind of infection.
Zebra and quagga mussels are tiny mollusks that can attach themselves to boats to invade freshwater sources. Should they infest a body of water, the consequences can be catastrophic for the body’s life forms and also impede the state’s water supply.
That’s why each state park makes it a priority to find mussels and prevent them from entering Colorado’s waters, with many spending thousands of dollars annually.
At Highline Lake State Park near Loma, $82,000 is spent annually on the park’s mussel prevention program. The program has been in place since 2008.
“First off, if any of our reservoirs in Colorado that we use for irrigation are infested, they can plug those pipes coming out of the lakes,” said Park Manager Alan Martinez. “There’s a huge cost to keeping those clean. Also, our fisheries would be severely affected. Those mussels filter the plankton out of the water, removing the bottom of the food chain. When we’re trying to protect our resources and our fisheries, that’s a big deal.”
Martinez also mentioned that mussels can invade and attach themselves to boats that spend extended periods of time on the water, infesting the motor and clogging the intakes, leading to easily burnt-up motors.
Many lakes and reservoirs in the state are used either for drinking water or for irrigation. Should mussels invade, those purposes could be drastically altered, if not impeded entirely.
“A lot of reservoirs in Colorado are owned by municipalities for drinking water or irrigation companies,” Martinez said. “If we have any bodies of water that become infested, some of these companies may elect to close their reservoirs to boating out of concern.
“For boaters, it’s very critical that they’re keeping their boats maintained and dry, because we could end up with a number of reservoirs in Colorado closed down to boating if we start getting our waters infested.”
One reservoir, Standley Lake in Westminster, has already banned boating this summer over mussel concerns because of boat traffic coming from other infested waters.
To prevent a similar fate at one of the Grand Valley’s few lakes, staff members thoroughly investigate every boat that comes in.
With staffing limited during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the lake limited its hours.
However, Highline Lake is back to its standard hours (6 a.m.-9 p.m.), and thus, its standard staffing and standard boat procedures.
“When we were somewhat restricted on hiring to start, we just restricted our hours,” Martinez said. “At Highline, we lock our ramps. If we aren’t doing inspections, the lake’s closed to boating. We just didn’t have our longer hours earlier this season, but now we’re up to full staff.”
Since the boat inspection program was implemented, nine boats containing zebra and quagga mussels have been intercepted.