As boating season begins on lakes and reservoirs, Colorado Parks and Wildlife is ramping up mandatory boat inspections and reminding boat owners that they must purchase an Aquatic Nuisance Species Stamp for the 2019 season.
Boat inspections are required for all motorized and trailered boats, including sailboats, prior to launching on most public waters in the state. They are especially needed to prevent the introduction of the non-native quagga and zebra mussels that cause damage to irrigation infrastructure, clog municipal water systems and impact lake ecology. Inspection stations have decontamination capability that uses high-pressure hot water.
To provide funding for boat inspections, the Colorado General Assembly passed a law in 2018 that requires boat owners who operate motorboats and sailboats on public lakes and reservoirs to purchase a $25 ANS stamp annually. The cost for out-of-state boats is $50. The stamps can be purchased online and at more than 700 sales locations statewide.
“Colorado is one of just a few states in the country that doesn’t have an infestation of adult mussels in any of its waters,” said Elizabeth Brown, invasive species program manager for CPW. “That’s directly attributable to our mandatory inspection and decontamination program that’s been in place for over a decade now.”
There have been 197 watercraft infested with zebra or quagga mussels intercepted in the state since the program began. CPW has already intercepted one boat infested with quagga mussels and several barges with zebra mussels in 2019. Last year, inspectors intercepted 51 infested watercraft, up from 26 in 2017.
“CPW is very confident in the statewide inspection and decontamination system to protect our waters. However, this program relies on the compliance of the boating community,” said Reid DeWalt, assistant director for wildlife and natural resources for CPW. “Boaters need to know the rules and follow them if we are going to be effective at keeping zebra and quagga mussels out of the nation’s headwaters.”
Mussel infestations cause a variety of problems. Because mussels consume plankton, they disrupt the food web and out-compete sport and native fish. Mussels clog dams, outlet structures and distribution systems that carry water for irrigation, municipal and industrial uses. Mussels also infest boats and damage engines.
Mussels have caused billions of dollars in damage, especially in the upper Midwest. Nearby states where mussel infestations exist include Utah, Arizona, Kansas, Texas, Nebraska and Oklahoma. Invasive mussels could have devastating ecological, economic, and recreational impacts if infestations were to establish here.
“Keeping Colorado’s waters free of invasive species is critical to maintaining efficient water delivery and infrastructure systems, and providing high-quality fishing and boating opportunities for our residents and visitors,” said Brown. “The program would not be possible without our numerous partners and the support of boaters and anglers.”
All boat owners are urged to clean, drain and dry their boats before entering a waterway and after leaving. Young mussels can live for days in standing water of engines, bilges and compartments, and threaten to infest waterways.
CPW exempts certain, hand-powered boats from inspections, including canoes, kayaks, paddle boards, and rafts, but those watercraft also need to be carefully cleaned, drained and dried by their owners to remove any water and or invasive species.
Locally, McPhee Reservoir, Groundhog Reservoir, Lake Nighthorse, Jackson Gulch Reservoir, and Navajo Reservoir have boat inspection stations for motorized boaters. However, other lakes such as Totten and Narraguinnep do not have the funding for boat inspections, so motorized boating is prohibited.
The main McPhee boat ramp will open to motorized and trailered vessels on April 13. The House Creek boat ramp on McPhee will open on May 1. Motorized boating on Lake Nighthorse and Groundhog Reservoir open on May 15, and Navajo Lake is open for all boating.