Ruedi boaters get zebra mussel warning

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Paul Conrad The Aspen Times

BASALT ” Recreation managers will focus on educating the boating public about the spread of zebra mussels this summer at Ruedi Reservoir, as opposed to the mandatory boat inspections and potential quarantining of watercraft that are taking place at some Colorado reservoirs.

Reservoir operators, municipal water utilities, marinas, wildlife officials and the U.S.

Forest Service are all scrambling to prevent the spread of the invasive mussels after they were detected in Lake Pueblo in southern Colorado late last year.

Zebra mussels and their cousin, the quagga mussel, are voracious, freshwater mollusks that cause costly damage, attaching themselves to boat hulls, motors and water-system intakes, clogging pumps, pipes and outdoor motors. They can also upset native ecosystems.

Representatives of the Bureau of Reclamation, which operates Ruedi in the Fryingpan Valley east of Basalt, recently met with the officials from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and the Forest Service to coordinate a strategy for preventing the spread of zebra mussels within the Fry-Ark Project, according to Kara Lamb, Bureau of Reclamation spokesperson. The Fry-Ark system of diversion tunnels and reservoirs includes five bodies of water ” Ruedi, Pueblo, Twin Lakes, Mt. Elbert Forebay and Turquoise Lake.

“We’re working to figure out what the best, appropriate action for each of our reservoirs will be,” she said.

While the bureau operates Ruedi, popular for both motorized boating and sailing, the Forest Service manages recreation there and will take the lead in implementing what is currently an evolving strategy to prevent the organism’s spread. The bureau produced signs to post and brochures for the Forest Service to distribute at Ruedi’s boat launch, Lamb said. Small signs were quickly posted, with a plan to replace them with larger ones.

The Ruedi launch, however, is manned at busy times and is a self-pay affair at others, meaning there isn’t always a staffer on hand to monitor boaters. Through signs and fliers, the Forest Service will strive to apprise boaters of the potential to spread the mussels, said Christine Hirsch, fisheries biologist with the White River National Forest.

“At this point, it’s leaning heavily toward boater education rather than check stations,” she said.

However, the Forest Service will likely close the small, gravel boat launch at Dearhamer Campground, on the upper end of the reservoir, to better manage access to the lake, said Mike Kenealy, recreation special uses coordinator for the White River.

“We may well, as we move forward with this, do some spot inspections,” he added.

Boaters who transport their watercraft from one lake to the next are the target of the public outreach effort, Kenealy said. Those who put their boat in only one body of water don’t pose a risk of transporting zebra mussels.

Like the owners of large boats, kayakers, rafters and canoeists also need to take precautions to prevent the spread of mussels, he said.

“Essentially, the word to the public is, remove all plants, mud, etc. from your boat when you pull it out of the water and let it dry for five days,” Kenealy said.

Boat trailers should be washed down and dried, too, though they’re less likely to collect mussels as they’re only in the water a brief time.

Bilge water, bilge pumps and live-bait wells or buckets that contain water from a particular lake should be emptied there, not dumped in another body of water, Kenealy advised.

Boaters can spread zebra mussel eggs and larvae without knowing it, and a single breeding pair of zebra mussels can result in a huge colony, say the experts. Adult mussels are typically about the size of a fingernail.

At major bodies of water in Utah, officials are prepared to wash down boats with extremely hot water, if necessary, to prevent the spread of the invaders.

At Lake Pueblo, state park rangers are checking for zebra mussels on any boat that’s been in the lake more than 24 hours and power-washing boats with 140-degree water if mussels are found. Vessels coming from mussel-contaminated areas in other states are automatically checked at launching.

At Dillon Reservoir along the Interstate 70 corridor, the threat of zebra mussels means mandatory inspections, possible quarantines and limited boat-launching hours. The reservoir has two access points ” at the Dillon and Frisco marinas, and there is a decontamination station at the Frisco Bay Marina.

The inspection program there applies to all boats, including untrailered crafts such as kayaks and canoes.

Zebra mussels, so named for their striped shells, were found in the United States in 1988 in the Great Lakes region but have spread across the country, mostly by attaching to boats. Biologists believe the mussels introduced in the United States when they were picked up in the ballast water of a ship in a European freshwater port and discharged into Lake St. Clair, which borders Canada and Michigan.