DENVER — Colorado Parks and Wildlife says it has already intercepted the same number of mussel-infested boats this summer as last summer, and the 2019 season is only hallway through.
CPW operates 72 boat inspection sites at boat launches across the state. So far in 2019, inspectors have discovered 51 boats with adult mussels attached to them. In 2018, 51 total mussel-infested boats were intercepted. 2017 saw 26 mussel-infested boats.
No boats with adult mussels have shown up at Cherry Creek Reservoir yet this year, but three have been stopped at Chatfield Reservoir.
“If something like zebra or quagga muscles got introduced it would have significant impacts on our recreational opportunities, the ecology of our lakes and reservoirs and also our water distribution,” Robert Walters, CPW invasive species specialist, said.
While Colorado does not have an invasion of adult zebra or quagga mussels in any of its waterways, next door neighbor Utah does.
“If a boat has been in out of state water like Lake Powell, then we will go through every inch of that boat. We’ll go through the exterior of the vessel, check the hull, check the trailer,” Walters said.
Inspectors check for adult mussels with shells, but also flag boats that arrive with standing water. Before maturing, zebra and quagga mussels are microscopic organisms that can’t be seen with the naked eye.
“One single muscle can produce up to a million baby muscles in a given spawn so if you start to multiply that out after ten years we would have 5 septillion muscles out there in the waterway, [assuming] only a ten percent survival rate,” Walters said.
The figure “five septillion” is a five followed by 24 zeros.
“As long as people’s equipment are clean drained and dry then we greatly reduce the potential for those to be introduced into our waters,” Walter said.
If an inspector discovers evidence of invasive species, the vessels must be decontaminated. According to CPW, no chemicals are used during the process. Instead, they use hot water to kill the mussels.
While the presence of adult mussels on a boat attempting to gain entry to Colorado water is rare, Walters says it is becoming less rare. That’s why it’s even more important for boaters to take the decontamination and inspection process seriously.
“And it’s only the middle of July so we’re looking at greatly exceeding anything we ever have in the past,” he said.