Green Mountain Reservoir faces another test in battle against invasive species | SummitDaily.com

Green Mountain Reservoir faces another test in battle against invasive species

It may still be peak ski season, but the time for boating is right around the corner and local officials are at a loss for how to keep up an invasive species prevention program at Green Mountain Reservoir with funding reserves currently bone dry.

Memorial Day is the traditional kick off for crafts hitting the region's water bodies, but after failed attempts to secure state or federal dollars to continue fending off destructive aquatic nuisance species, many worry Colorado will become the next western state to come down with a case of the dreaded zebra and quagga mussels. The larvae of these destructive mollusks were discovered in Montana for the first time this past November, and it wasn't long before the governor of our northern neighbor issued a statewide natural resource emergency.

On top of serious food chain and water quality degradation concerns, these shellfish can annually cause hundreds of thousands in damage to existing water infrastructure. They're also nearly impossible to permanently remove once they settle in a new location.

Pueblo Reservoir is the only known body of water in the state to have larval stage mussels, also called veligers. An adult has never been found in Colorado. Officials are trying to ensure it stays that way, with programs at other high-risk water bodies like Lake Granby and Ruedi Reservoir also prolonging vigilance despite dwindling funds. Denver Water, which owns Dillon Reservoir, forks over the cost for such interventions at Summit's other favorite water recreation site.

“Significant recreation and aquatic resources are at risk, and it’s just absurd to not spend the pennies for prevention instead of the mega-dollars after the fact. It’s also absolutely devastating to the fishery and the whole aquatic ecosystem.”Karn StiegelmeierSummit County Commissioner

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Green Mountain, located on the northern end of the county along the Blue River, is considered a relatively high-priority site because of its proximity to the Front Range, and, as a result, large volumes of boaters. It's why Summit County administrators are ramping up efforts to find financial resources and maintain area boat inspections on the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation-owned reservoir and curb these critters' arrival.

"Maybe we could just walk around with a tin cup or something," said County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier. "Significant recreation and aquatic resources are at risk, and it's just absurd to not spend the pennies for prevention instead of the mega-dollars after the fact. It's also absolutely devastating to the fishery and the whole aquatic ecosystem."

Steps Forward, Steps Back

Arizona's Lake Powell is the primary example of what one wouldn't want to happen here. Out-of-state vessels carrying the zebra and quagga entered the 250-mile reservoir several years back, and by late 2012 a mussel infestation had been confirmed. Glen Canyon Dam and the eight turbines that power its hydroelectrical generator are now prone to millions upon millions of dollars in structural harm as the mussel population there proliferates each year.

Green Mountain is much smaller scale, with annual inspection costs that run upwards of $80,000. From 2009-14, the U.S. Forest Service fully funded these watercraft review and decontamination measures based out of the Heeney Marina, but the federal agency was forced to eliminate the program in 2015 due to slashed budgets. Colorado Parks and Wildlife stepped up and paid for the aquatic nuisance species prevention efforts in 2015 and 2016, but recently ran into diminished allocations as well and had to pull out of Summit and focus reserves on only extremely high-risk CPW waters this upcoming summer.

"A stakeholder effort to raise funds for 2017 implementation has been underway since July, but to date no funds have been made available," Reid DeWalt, CPW's assistant director, wrote by email. "Partnerships are necessary to implement the program statewide on all waters of concern."

Recognizing the fomenting danger, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet went to bat for the state by including an aquatic nuisance species funding provision in the recent Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act. President Obama signed the water enhancement bill into law in December, but by the time the final version hit his desk it had been slimmed down. The bill passed the Senate with this invasive species endowment clause, but was struck in the U.S. House's final conference report. As a result, Colorado is still without the required monies to give its prevention programming a necessary boost.

"It is critical that we proactively address this issue to keep Colorado reservoirs and waterways free from aquatic nuisance species," Laurie Cipriano, press secretary for Sen. Bennet, said in a written statement. "We will continue to advocate for the federal government to pay its fair share for this important work in Colorado, particularly for federally-owned facilities."

What Lies Ahead

For its part, the Bureau of Reclamation acknowledges awareness of this growing problem, but does not itself conduct or organize recreation or related facilities on the bodies of water it possesses. Instead, it merely authorizes approved activities as managed by partner agencies, such as Larimer County at both Horsetooth Reservoir and Carter Lake in Northern Colorado, and therefore expects those entities to cover these associated costs.

CPW still intends to provide training to staff at Green Mountain's Heeney Marina in 2017, and do its best to assist with monitoring at a reduced rate. The state agency is also presently in discussions with the Forest Service, as well as other organizations, to see what amount of collaboration might be possible to continue the nuisance species prevention programming in future years.

Meanwhile, at a governmental level, the idea of a bill this legislative cycle requiring a permit in the form of a vessel sticker, say, at a cost of $5 per kayak and $25 per larger boat, has been floated. But as of yet, no one in the General Assembly has stepped up to sponsor such a proposal, even as summer fast approaches.

"One of the benefits of a sticker program where you pay money is it creates awareness that this is a problem," said Stiegelmeier. "It's just something people don't know that much about, and it's really important. And right now, we have no money at all."