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Pending boat requirements protect Colorado waterways

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If you spend time on lakes and reservoirs, be advised that in addition to the boat registration requirements already in effect, there will be a new $25 stamp to buy starting in 2019. The penalty for launching your vessel without it is $100, and if you’re caught bringing invasive mussel species into Colorado waters on your boat, penalties are going up.

Colorado is one of the last remaining states that is successfully keeping invasive mussel species out of our bodies of water, and state lawmakers have decided that protecting the state program that helps prevent an infestation is important enough to create a new fee. The governor signed the Mussel-free Colorado Act late last month. After the initial funding for this Colorado Parks and Wildlife program was cut with a 2016 Colorado Supreme Court ruling allowing oil and gas companies additional tax deductions, the severance tax funded program was given one year of leeway by lawmakers from the general fund to figure out another way to make sure boat inspection and decontamination efforts could continue in Colorado. That’s what this new stamp is for.

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What the future could hold

Zebra and quagga mussels get into waterways in two ways — through the natural flow of water or by attaching to recreation or commercial watercraft that then travel over land to other bodies of water. As a headwater state, the mussels can’t invade us by coming downstream, but they can hitch a ride on boats heading to our reservoirs and rivers.

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Elizabeth Brown is the state’s invasive species coordinator with Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “They are considered our most serious aquatic nuisance species or ANS threat… Invasive mussels can cause enormous problems to water infrastructure, recreation, ecology, and our fisheries,” she said.

After the mussels have made their home in new waterways, they cannot be eradicated. Cleaning efforts give way to all out replacement of water infrastructure when the flow of that life-giving stuff is blocked by the mussels.

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“The economic impacts are significant,” Brown told lawmakers in a committee hearing. Water storage and distribution infrastructure would have to be regularly cleared to make sure there is enough space for water to get through to homes, farms, and industrial users. The costs would be felt in higher water and energy bills, and in the cost of food production.

For example, according a fact sheet she shared with lawmakers, “the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California will spend $10–15 million annually in operations and maintenance costs to address quagga mussel infestation in its Colorado River Aqueduct and terminal reservoirs.” Colorado spends a little over $4 million a year now on prevention.

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Stamp and penalties

The new $25 stamp is required for motorboats and sailboats, and costs $50 for out-of-state residents. If you fail to buy the stamp or launch your boat without an inspection, the penalty is $100. If you actually bring those mussels into Colorado waterways on your boat, it’s $500 for your first offense, $1000 for the second, and the third could lead to jail time. So far, the state has intercepted 145 boats that would have put our water at risk.

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Travis Duncan is the statewide public information officer with Colorado Parks and Wildlife and he’s worried about people breaking the law because they just don’t think it’s that important. “People might not think that it’s a big deal to put in their boat real quickly. They don’t want to wait in line to get their boat checked, but it’s really important,” he said. “Make sure your boat’s okay, even if you feel like you know. Follow the law. … It’s really important to everybody in the state to protect our natural resources.”

Harvey Gap, Ruedi Reservoir and other nearby watering holes are subject to the new laws. You too can prevent water infestations.

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Our state representative, Bob Rankin, voted for the law, while our state senator, Randy Baumgardner, voted against it.

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