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October test shows no mussels at McPhee; recreation impacted

New rules limit motorized boating

A coalition of local government agencies that formed to prevent an invasive mussel contamination at McPhee Reservoir can claim victory in its first year.

A test in October showed no sign of the dreaded quagga or zebra mussels, which proliferate rapidly and can attach in suffocating layers to irrigation and municipal infrastructure.

“With the help of the community, we have avoided contamination and protected our water source,” Ken Curtis, an engineer with the Dolores Water Conservancy District, said during a recent community meeting to gain public feedback.

The success is credited to stringent new rules that require all motorized and trailered boats to go through mussel inspection stations at either the House Creek or McPhee boat ramps during open hours. Mussels are carried in standing water of engines and ballasts.

Restricted access changed the culture of McPhee access.

Since the boat ramps were gated for the season in October, no motorized boating is allowed on the lake, even though the weather is nice.

At Sage Hen, County Road X was closed, and boulders were placed to prevent unauthorized motorized boating access, but it also stopped a tradition of driving up to the shoreline to fish.

Officials readjusted boulder locations to improve fishing access, and Road X will be reopened Nov. 30 for the offseason.

A list of nine nonmotorized craft including kayaks, canoes and paddle boards are exempt from the inspection requirements and can launch from anywhere anytime.

“I’d like closer access at Sage Hen to launch my kayak, which weighs 60 pounds,” said one boater.

Limited motorized boating access led to wait times at the McPhee boat ramp, and the new configuration for the inspection station led to parking problems.

Forest Service recreation planner Tom Rice said officials are working to improve the parking issue for next year. Nonmotorized boaters who can hand-launch were encouraged to not use the boat ramps during peak times to accommodate motorized users waiting to get inspected and launch.

Funding for current and expanded boat inspection is limited. Ideas include charging a fee for boaters at McPhee to help cover costs, but that won’t happen for 2018. A bill is also being drafted that would require boaters to pay for a $25 aquatic nuisance sticker. The funds would go toward boat inspection funding.

Jerry Davis, of Cortez, suggested a fee-sticker system be started for mountain bikes to increase revenue for recreation management.

“Motor boaters, ATVers and hunters pay fees, why not mountain bikers?” he said.

McPhee is considered high risk for a mussel infestation because of its proximity to Lake Powell, which is contaminated. Lakes across Colorado have tightened motorized access to block the mussel. The state was mussel-free until this October, when Green Mountain Reservoir became a suspect waterway because of DNA traces of mussel.

“Locally we have intercepted boats with mussels heading to McPhee and Navajo Reservoir,” Curtis said.

The $100,000 boat inspection program at McPhee is shared among the San Juan National Forest, Dolores Water Conservancy District, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Bureau of Reclamation.


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