LOMA, Colo. (KDVR) – On Sept. 14, Colorado Parks and Wildlife made a concerning discovery in Highline Lake when a zebra mussel was found on a piece PVC in the water. Since then, the lake was put on “suspect status” and a continued investigation didn’t yield good results.

This week, on Tuesday, after an uptick in CPW-led testing and the discovery of more zebra mussels, the department decided to elevate that status to “infested,” making it the first time in the state’s history the classification has been used in response to the invasive species

As a result of this development, FOX31 spoke with CPW’s Joey Livingston to find out what this status change means for Coloradans and their sources of water.

The zebra mussel and the threat they pose

Zebra Mussels advisory
Zebra mussel advisory
(Credit: AP Photo/Uriel J. Garcia)

“Thanks to Colorado’s robust early detection sampling and monitoring program, we were able to make this discovery,” CPW Acting Director Heather Dugan said.

That discovery was made thanks to the extensive efforts of CPW’s Aquatic Nuisance Species program, which was started back in 2009 in an effort to keep tabs on species that could negatively impact Colorado’s water ecosystems through the extensive testing and cleaning of boats as they exit bodies of water in the state.

According to Livingston, the zebra mussel has a developmental cycle similar to an insect, the juvenile stage of which is called the veliger. The mussel begins this stage as a microscopic-sized specimen and can grow as big as a dime. When this size, the species can be transported from one body of water to another without visible detection.

According to CPW, once additional invasive mussels are discovered, it is more than likely that a population has established itself in the water they were found. That is when the status is moved from “suspect,” to “infestation,” because once they are established, it is rather difficult to remove them.

Why zebra mussels are considered an infestation

When asked what negative impact zebra mussels have on the ecosystem they inhabit, Livingston said, “they take nutrients out of the water that other species could use.”

If the species encroachment goes unaddressed, the biggest fallout that could land in the laps of the average Coloradan could be in cities’ water systems, which would cost taxpayers quite a bit to remedy.

This means a problem that largely impacts boaters and others on the water now could potentially become an issue for many more Coloradans if it’s not kept under control.