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Lingering winter delays opening of McPhee Reservoir boat ramp

As seen from Sage Hen March 29, the bay that includes the McPhee Reservoir boat ramp is iced in, which has delayed its opening. (Courtesy San Juan National Forest)
Bay is iced over, and roads drifted with snow; invasive mussels found on Western Slope

Opening day for the McPhee Reservoir boat ramp has been delayed because of lake ice, reports the San Juan National Forest.

The McPhee ramp typically opens in mid-April.

That is not possible this year because large parts of the reservoir remain under ice, and snow drifts are blocking the main access road, said forest recreation planner Tom Rice.

“The bay is iced over,” he said.

It is not clear when the boat ramp will open because it depends on the timeline of the ice receding. With warmer temperatures on the way, the hope is to get it open by the end of the month.

Thanks to above average snowfall, the 380,000-acre-foot reservoir will fill this year, the first time since 2019.

On March 29, Snotels in the Dolores River Basin above McPhee showed snowpack at 190% of the 30-year average (1991-2020). A spring snowfall and cold temperatures have delayed the runoff.

Once the reservoir opens, operations hours are as follows:

McPhee Boat Ramp
  • Opening day to April 30: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • May 1 to Sept. 19: 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.
  • Sept. 20 to Oct. 31: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
House Creek Boat Ramp
  • May 1 to Oct. 1: 6 a.m.to 8 p.m. Friday to Monday.

Doc’s Marina is waiting for lake ice to recede to set up at the McPhee ramp. The marina could open Memorial Day, Rice said.

Invasive mussels a heightened concern

McPhee continues to have a robust boat aquatic nuisance inspection program to prevent invasive mussels.

Aquatic Nuisance Species inspectors will be on-site to conduct inspections of trailered and motorized boats launching on the reservoir to help stop the spread of zebra or quagga mussels and other invasive species.

Boaters who need a full inspection and decontamination are urged to visit the lake during the weekday when visitation is lower than the weekend. Boaters who have tags from last year’s inspections on McPhee will be able to enter the lake quicker than boaters who need inspections.

For more information, please visit the San Juan National Forest Boating webpage or contact the Dolores Ranger District at (970) 882-7296.

McPhee testing negative

McPhee Reservoir has been testing negative for the mussels, Rice said.

Officials stress the importance of decontaminating all boats and trailers before entering the water. Boats that have been in contaminated lakes are required by Colorado law to be professionally decontaminated.

Invasive mussels can cause serious and expensive damage to reservoir infrastructure, irrigation canals, pumping stations, pipelines and the hydroelectric plant.

In September, the invasive zebra mussel was detected relatively nearby Highline Lake State Park near Fruita, the first adult one found in the state.

CPW found the single adult zebra mussel on a piece of PVC pipe in the lake during routine invasive species sampling Sept. 14. Two CPW experts have independently confirmed the identification of the mussel through visual identification methods and genetic confirmation was also made on the sample.

Boat inspections for invasive mussels and decontaminations are increasing across the state. (Journal file photo)
This houseboat parked on Mancos Hill was found to be infested with the invasive quagga mussel in 2017. It was held by Colorado Parks and Wildlife and will be hauled to Navajo Lake boat inspection station to be decontaminated. (Journal file photo)

This is the first time an adult zebra mussel has been found in Colorado, although eight reservoirs in Colorado have been temporarily suspect or positive for mussel veligers, the larval life stage of the mussel, since 2008.

"This is an unfortunate discovery, and something we have been working very hard to prevent," said CPW Acting Director Heather Dugan in September. "It shows why we need a robust inspection program. As more and more people move to or visit Colorado and use our water resources for boating, we must continue to work hard to prevent the spread of these harmful invasive species. We cannot overstate how serious this is."

Colorado prevention laws

The State of Colorado requires boats to be professionally inspected if:

  • A boat has been in any body of water that is positive, or suspect for ANS.
  • A boat has been in any body of water outside of Colorado.
  • A boat will be entering any water body where inspections are required.

"This situation demonstrates the importance of following the law and going through the required inspection and decontamination process upon entering and exiting bodies of water," said Reid DeWalt, Assistant Director for Aquatics, Terrestrial and Natural Resources with CPW, in a news release.

Cooperation with Colorado’s mandatory inspection and decontamination program has proven successful to stop the movement of harmful invasive species, such as zebra mussels, into new waters. Public awareness and participation is the best weapon in the prevention of invasive species.

Please visit the CPW website for more information about zebra and quagga mussels.