Boating, fishing at Ruedi Reservoir could be imperiled by invasive species | AspenTimes.com

Boating, fishing at Ruedi Reservoir could be imperiled by invasive species

Officials fear there is trouble lurking for the tranquil waters of Ruedi Reservoir. Lacks of funds threatens a boat inspection program to keep the reservoir free of zebra and quagga mussels.

The loss of state and federal funding for a program to check boats entering Ruedi Reservoir for nasty invasive species has left local governments scrambling to salvage the effort.

The stakes are high, officials claim. If zebra and quagga mussels proliferate they could collapse the reservoir's natural food chain and affect the fishing. The mussels reproduce quickly and latch onto any solid surface. They could gum up the infrastructure at Ruedi, affecting the intake for Ruedi Water and Power Authority's hydroelectric works below the dam and altering the ability to release water into the lower Fryingpan River.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife has identified the Aquatic Nuisance Species as a major threat to reservoirs and lakes in Colorado (http://cpw.state.co.us/aboutus/Pages/ISP-Zebra-Quagga.aspx), but the agency pulled its funding for boat inspection programs this year. State officials cite the loss of dedicated tax funds. Parks and Wildlife was contributing $10,000 per year for the boat inspectors at Ruedi Reservoir.

The U.S. Forest Service stopped contributing to the program in 2015. Its contribution was $15,000 annually.

A part-time boat inspection program has been in place at Ruedi since 2010, funded by local, state and federal governments with contributions from the private sector. Nearly 20,000 boats have been inspected and 269 were decontaminated after they were identified as posing a risk of carrying invasive species.

"Ruedi is considered at high risk by the Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife due to the heavy boat traffic between the Roaring Fork Valley and Lake Powell and Lake Mead, both of which have become infested with (the mussels) over the last several years," said a memo written by Mark Fuller, executive director of Ruedi Water and Power Authority. Fuller is traveling overseas, so his memo was presented to the Basalt Town Council and Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams Board.

The boat inspection program has operated five days per week, Wednesday through Sunday, from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend. It costs about $27,000.

Fuller not only wants to find funding to replace the state and federal dollars, he wants to expand the program.

"The current program leaves about 1,000 hours of daylight during the months of May to October when boats can come and go on Ruedi without learning about aquatic nuisance species issues or submitting to boat inspections," Fuller wrote. "This is a 'hole' in the program that can only be plugged by, in effect, doubling the size of the program and closing the main boat ramp except during those hours when inspectors are on site."

Expanding the program to full time during daylight hours from May 1 to around Nov. 1, depending on weather, would cost about $70,000.

Fuller is appealing to the governments that belong to the Ruedi Water and Power Authority to fund the lion's share of the program. Those include the governments of Aspen, Snowmass Village, Basalt, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs, Eagle County and Pitkin County. Other entities that use water from Ruedi also are being approached.

Basalt Councilman Mark Kittle, the town's representative to the Ruedi Water and Power Authority, urged the rest of the council Tuesday to increase its contribution.

"I don't want to let it go," he said. "It's a big, big deal for Ruedi."

The council seemed receptive, but no decision was made.

Fuller said in his memo the funding must be found to expand the inspections.

"If we cannot fund a full-time program, we should consider ending the inspection program entirely since the part-time nature of the current program severely undermines its effectiveness and credibility," he concluded.

scondon@aspentimes.com