Let’s protect the nature at Boulder Reservoir

It's about the wildlife, and a place for us to go

| Dec 21, 2009


“THE RES” Boulder Reservoir on a picture-perfect day. But it could be so much nicer, argues Rob Smoke. Learn more at his “Save the Reservoir” website. (Reporter photo)

Since last authoring an opinion piece on the topic of the Boulder Reservoir (i.e., ‘the res’), I’ve had a variety of nearly hallucinogenic encounters with people who want to discuss the issue.

Here’s the best argument made by people who think fuel-burning motorized boats need to stay at the res: it’s not a natural lake; it’s man-made; therefore it was never meant to be a haven for wildlife, or quiet open space, or anything like that. It was meant to be used for all things “fun.”

‘Scuse me? Do the “sensitive” (read: “sensitive to extinction”) species of birds – ospreys and burrowing owls – know the place is man-made? Do they know that you’re just there to have fun?

Motor boats and wildlife

Presently, local wildlife organizations are advocating that the motorized boats be restricted to a tighter area. However, the truth of the matter is that they are asking for the barest of bare compromise. Nobody knows the “stress limit” on these species. Development and other factors will continue to increase the numbers of cars, people, and other activity at the res. The motor boats are almost incidental; except for the fact that they aren’t, and they do disturb wildlife habitat. How far is the day we walk out in the early spring mist with our binocs only to find … no birds? It’s likely only a matter of a few years; but why must we hasten the day?

So here we are, to paraphrase the Bard:

…we few, we happy few, we band of brothers…for he today who sheds his blood with me to defend these tiny creatures – these owls that burrow for their keep – shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile, this day shall gentle his condition, and gentlemen in Longmont now abed shall envy us every time one of these tiny birds poops on their windshield.

The point is not that the battle to save locally endangered species is as dramatic as a scene from Henry V; the point is that it’s just something we should do. Of course, if we can’t do it where the creatures live now, if we can’t do it in the place where we obviously should be doing it, we might as well throw in the towel and abandon the crazy pretense that programs like our “Climate Action Plan” mean anything at all. Climate action? Come on, dude, lay off the ospreys, then call me.

Drinking water, too

The wildlife issues are just one portion of the ecological landscape; up to 40 percent of the city (as far west as Folsom) receives tap water from the res. True, the majority of the pollution might be from sources other than motor boats, but why choose to pollute unnecessarily? Furthermore, if the zebra mussel infestation found at nearby locations makes it into Boulder reservoir, the cost of keeping the water clean enough to drink (it’s estimated by city staff) could climb by $100,000 per year, the amount required in other locations. Even though the boats are given attention before entering the water, the day when zebra mussels take over the res is, again in the opinion of our own city staff, being hastened.

The res is presently the city’s only supervised freshwater swim facility, and people who shell out the six bucks are right to hope and expect an experience that is something other than having to speak over the steady drone of fuel-burning engines; and by the way, on weekends, there are frequently a dozen or more motor boats on the water at the same time.

Making the res a place for low-impact recreation isn’t like stealing the rights of people who are otherwise disenfranchised because they use their boats to hunt Tarpon to feed their children; come on, the people who own the boats aren’t Eskimos; they’re not native Inuit who have driven cigar boats while listening to AC/DC for 2,000 years. With a tiny bit of imagination, the boat owners can still have fun. Put the thing in the backyard, install a DVD player, and watch reruns of Gilligan’s Island out there.

Banning the boats and keeping low-impact recreation is not the most ecologically progressive choice, but it is a pretty good middle-of-the-road compromise. When the city adds a new locker facility, a white sand beach, and summer shuttle service from downtown and the hotels, people who once went to the shore in summer will be flocking to Boulder to get their picture taken with a burrowing owl. It certainly will not be, as the pry-the-motor-boat-from-my-cold-clenched-fingers crowd insists, the end of fun.