Overwhelming invasive species infestation threatens boating in Colorado

The state of Colorado has seen a dramatic rise in the number of invasive mussel-infested boats, which some officials say could lead to a shutdown of boating activities in the state’s 38 drinking water reservoirs.

State inspectors with the Department of Parks and Wildlife (CPW) have already intercepted 51 infested vessels this year, the same amount for all of 2018, according to TheDenverChannel.com. Colorado reservoirs remain mussel-free at this time, and CPW intends to keep them that way.

“I am just being completely over-run by mussel infested boats,” Robert Walters, CPW assistant manager for the aquatic nuisance species program, said in a news release. “We are having interceptions just about every day at waters throughout the state. And most of the boats are coming out of Lake Powell.”

Boats leaving Lake Powell are supposed to be inspected, but Walters says inspection stations there are overwhelmed as well. Inspectors have also found mussels on paddleboards and canoes that have been in Lake Powell. Any boats found with mussels in Colorado must be completely decontaminated.

Invasive mussels eat plankton, disrupting the food chain, and can also clog infrastructure, such as reservoir dams, outlet structures and systems that distribute water for irrigation and cities, according to CPW.

Mussels have infested waters in the near-by states of Utah, Arizona Kansas, Nebraska, Texas and Oklahoma, and have caused the most damage in the Upper Midwest (where they were first discovered in 1989) and in the Lower Colorado River areas. There are two types of invasive mussels – zebra and quagga. Zebra and quagga mussel larvae were identified in eight reservoirs in Colorado in 2008, when the aquatic nuisance species program was formed, according to CPW.