Last spring’s decision to temporarily ban trailered boats on Standley Lakes waters became permanent Dec. 2, with city officials saying they could find no good way to regulate the boats.
“There is no boating going forward,” Westminster Public Works Director Max Kirschbaum said.
The city banned motorized water craft from using the lake in March after city staff learned that 24 of the 483 powered water craft used on the lake in 2018 had broken the city’s zebra and quogga mussel quarantine.
The reservoir’s status as a drinking water supply is more important than recreation, Kirschbaum said.
“One could say that this was a water storage reservoir that happened to permit certain types of recreation but not the other way around,” Kirschbaum said.
The concern is that non-native Quagga or Zebra mussels could attach themselves to a boat and get introduced to Standley Lake. The mussels can destroy local ecosystems, clog drinking water pipes and cause algae blooms that threaten water quality.
The invasive species have not been found in Westminster’s drinking water supply, but they have spread to bodies of water like Nevada’s Lake Mead — a popular boating destination.
Canoes, kayaks and paddleboards can still be used in Standley Lake. “The reason being, those types of craft can be 100 percent visually inspected and 100 percent decontaminated 100 percent of the time,” Kirschbaum said.
Big craft, with bilge tanks and motors that can’t be sprayed or inspected as easily, had to be kept in quarantine for 35 days before they can be used in Standley Lake, under the old rules. Boat owners were issued a wired tag to identify them as clean that was supposed to be removed if they used the boat on a different body of water.
Westminster staff learned a year ago that 24 boaters had broken Westminster’s quarantine and learned from a local mechanic in March that the city’s wire-and-tag verification system was easy to defeat.
The city hosted a meeting with boat owners from around the metro area to talk about solutions after the temporary ban went in place in March. That led to the formation of a task force to look for solutions and to get the boats back on the water.
Brit Terry, a former Westminster resident, helped found the Friends of Standley Lake group that worked with the task force to find a better tagging solution. Terry said the group came up with several options that would have keep unclean boats off of Standley Lake, but none met the city’s criteria.
“I’m convinced that no physical solution would ever be approved,” Terry said. “I think they did the task force to string us along, a smokescreen, for nine months. If they had just said that from the beginning, I would nine months of my life back.”
Kirschbaum said there just is no way to make sure that boats on Standley Lake hadn’t been used on an infected lake.
“We have to be able to tell, under field conditions, if a device had been tampered with our not,” Kirschbaum said. “If it could be defeated without detection, that would be a fail.”
Kirschbaum said the task force considered one option that tracked the boat via GPS system, but that method regularly gave bad data.
“In the future it might have promise, but the testing we conducted with the task force and City IT, demonstrated significant flaws at this time, particularly when reporting GPS data,” he said. “It would indicate that the lock was opened on the other side of the world. So it did not pass muster, based on that.”
Other mechanical options were too easy to tamper with, he said.
“The criteria we looked at was, is it possible to circumvent without detection,” Kirschbaum said. “None of them passed that test. They could all be defeated, without detection.”
Terry disputed that, saying that damage to the tags was easy to see if they’d been tampered with.
“You could see, just by looking at it, that someone had broken the lock or a cable,” Terry said. “You just had to look at them — you didn’t even need magnification — and see that cable was broken here, or something had been melted there.”
He believes the city was not interested in finding a better tracking system, but just wanted the ban in place.
“We could have had a system that was a thousand times safer than what they had before, but they didn’t want that,” Terry said. “Nothing was ever going to be good enough.”
Kirschbaum said the matter is closed for now.
Terry said he and his group is disappointed. He’s glad the city made the decision now, rather than next spring. That gives former Standley Lake boaters time to find a new location for their boats.
“There are very few lakes in the state of Colorado,” he said. “Unfortunately, this came to a bad conclusion.”