To those hoping to take a watercraft out on Elkhead Reservoir before winter comes, be prepared to wait for a zebra mussel inspection.
Ron Dellacroce, Yampa River State Park manager, said the threat from zebra and quagga mussels is so severe, no craft will be allowed on the water without an inspection.
"They're bad," he said. "Just one of them in Elkhead could ruin the lake for fishing, boating and municipal water."
Boaters need to be aware that it does not take a mussel to fail an inspection, Dellacroce said. A craft with any standing water or water kept in ballast and bilge tanks, live wells for bait or water used as engine coolant will fail inspection.
"These mussels could change boating and water use in our state as we know it, now," Dellacroce said. "In fact, they may already have."
Both mussel species are almost universally transported by latching onto watercrafts that travel between water bodies. Zebra mussels, a native species in the Black and Caspian seas, were first brought to North America in the 1980s when shipping barges introduced them to the Great Lakes.
They weren't found in Colorado until January this year, when officials discovered them in Lake Pueblo. Then, in July, quagga mussels were found in Granby Lake.
Zebra and quagga mussels feed by filtering bacteria and other small organic parts out of the water. A large mussel population can dramatically change the biological makeup of a water body and damage local marine species, Dellacroce said.
They also can spread like a blanket, growing on top of one another and covering any surface they touch, he added, including hydroelectric dams, on filters and inside pipes.
Because the city of Craig plans to eventually use Elkhead to supply more water to residents, a mussel infestation could hamper long-term city plans.
If zebra mussels got into the municipal water system, the expense in continuous repairs and cleaning could be tremendous, Dellacroce said. It has proved impossible for authorities across the country to remove zebra and quagga mussels from any body of water despite various chemical and biological treatments.
The only way that has been proven effective to kill them is to wash a mussel with water heated to 140 degrees and a special chemical solution, then let them dry out, Dellacroce said.
"You basically have to bake and dry them," he said. "Once they're under a water's surface, forget about it."
Watercraft inspections are becoming common across Colorado, said Jerry Neal, Colorado Division of Wildlife public information officer.
"It is quite common for boaters to go through an inspection before they can enter a lake (around the state)," Neal said. "If there's one message we want to get out to boaters, it is clean, drain and dry your boat every time you get out of the water."