In January 2008, the U.S. Geological Survey confirmed zebra mussels had invaded Pueblo Reservoir.
Nine months later, four more reservoirs northwest of Denver were also found to be infected with the aquatic nuisance species.
The discovery prompted the state legislature in February 2009 to pass legislation allowing Colorado Parks and Wildlife to implement one of the nation’s most aggressive boat inspection programs.
Last month, parks and wildlife released results of its 2011 campaign, which included 420,000 boat inspections throughout the state.
Eight boats were found to be carrying ANS.
“Colorado boaters should be commended for their diligence in cleaning, draining and drying their boats in between each and every use,” said Gene Seagle, ANS coordinator for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, in a news release. “Every inspection contact with a boater includes education about ANS and the threat they pose to lakes, reservoirs, public water systems and boating in the state.”
According to the parks and wildlife news release, the number of contaminated boats has declined each year since the inspection program began three years ago.
Parks and wildlife inspectors decontaminated 19 vessels that year. It intercepted 14 in 2010.
The release also states none of the eight contaminated boats became contaminated in Colorado waters, and all were decontaminated before launching in the state.
Boat inspections take place at 112 sites throughout Colorado, including Elkhead Reservoir, which straddles the border of Moffat and Routt counties.
Matt Schuler, senior ranger for Yampa River State Park and Elkhead Reservoir, said 3,000 boat inspections were conducted locally between May and October 2011. None of the boats were carrying ANS.
“We’ve been doing this for a few years now and people are familiar with the process,” Schuler said. “They bring their boats to Elkhead pretty clean.”
The boat inspection program at Elkhead costs about $38,000 a year, which pays for five part-time inspectors and all of the equipment used to inspect for and clean ANS. On average, it costs about $29 per boat inspection, Schuler said.
Stopping the spread of ANS, particularly zebra mussels, is vital to preserving recreational opportunities in the region and around the state, Schuler said.
The tiny .5- to 1.5-inch aquatic creature is a filter feeder and capable of sieving through one liter of water each day.
In places where the aquatic nuisance species has been introduced, the water is crystal clear, but devoid of any nutrients plants, fish and other aquatic species require to thrive, Schuler said.
“As far as fishing, it would destroy the fishery,” Schuler said. “Once all of the nutrients are depleted, all of the fish will die off.
“They can also get into the intakes of boats and totally seize engines.”
ANS problems also expand beyond recreation, Schuler said.
“They can clog and destroy dams, water treatment plants, and everything connected to the lakes and creeks,” Schuler said. “It will wipe out the ecosystem of a lake and then destroy anything else they attach to.”
Schuler said the boat inspection program will continue this year.
Joe Moylan can be reached at 875-1794 or firstname.lastname@example.org.