Zebra mussels are here to stay, officials say, and education is the key to controlling the growing problem.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department officials are working with the North Texas Municipal Water District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to educate people on how to keep the invasive and destructive creatures from spreading from lake to lake throughout the state.
“Clean, drain, dry,” Todd Robinson, fish and wildlife technician with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, told reporters Friday as part of the message he wanted conveyed to the public.
As the lake season kicks off this weekend, officials want boaters, fishermen and everyone in between to remember zebra mussels at the end of the day as they are heading home.
Robinson noted the need to empty water from any receptacle and all equipment that can hold water.
Originating from Eastern Europe, zebra mussels were first found in Lake St. Clair, Mich., in 1988. They have been found in more than 600 lakes and reservoirs in 29 states.
Zebra mussels became established in Lake Texoma in 2009 and last year were found in Lake Ray Roberts and in the Elm Fork of the Trinity River above Lake Lewisville.
While adult zebra mussels are relatively easy to spot as they cling to pretty much anything solid in the water — such as boats, docks and pipes — the larvae form of the creature is not easy to see. This larvae stage, called veleger, can be in virtually any bit of water located on a boat.
Robinson said now is the peak spawning period for them. A liter of water is also the amount one adult mussel can filter in a day, removing plankton from the water, which can have an impact on fish.
Zebra mussels can attach themselves to other mussels, turtles, crawfish and other creatures.
“This can lead to a decline in the bait fish population. And as the prey fish decline, game fish could decline,” Robinson said.
Recreational fishing generates millions of dollars for Texas, and while it has not yet been largely impacted, 10 or 15 years down the road, who knows what can happen, Robinson said.
Chemicals exist that can deal with the pesky creature, but the amount needed for Lake Ray Roberts or other large bodies of water would be cost prohibitive, Robinson said.
The better path is prevention.
The impact of zebra mussels can be felt away from Lake Ray Roberts and other North Texas bodies of water. Denise Hickey, public relations coordinator with the North Texas Municipal Water District, said the district’s ability to provide water for 1.6 million North Texans has been compromised by zebra mussels.
Lake Texoma provides 28 percent of the raw water supply for the district, which it cannot access because of zebra mussel contamination. Intake systems from lakes can become clogged with zebra mussels, officials have said. That, along with the recurring drought, is forcing the district to meet people’s water needs with less available supply. To combat that, the district is enacting a construction project that will extend its pipeline another 46 miles.
“The impact to the end user is an impact on their water rate,” Hickey said.
She also noted additional operation and maintenance costs for the pipeline and water facility.
Under the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department rules and the Texas Penal Code, possession or transporting of zebra mussels in Texas is a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $500 for the first offense. Repeat offenses can be elevated to a Class B misdemeanor, which is punishable by a fine of up to $2,000, jail time up to 180 days, or both. If an individual is convicted a third time for the same offense, it becomes a Class A misdemeanor, which could result in a fine of up to $4,000, jail time not to exceed one year, or both.
With millions of dollars at stake and the potential for contamination of all Texas lakes, rivers and other bodies of water, prevention is key, officials said. And the spread of zebra mussels can be prevented with a few minutes of boat maintenance.
“Once you have done it a few times, you get a system down. It shouldn’t take any more than five minutes,” Robinson said. “It’s very simple. Anything in the water, clean, drain, dry.”
BJ LEWIS can be reached at 940-566-6875 and via Twitter at @BjlewisDRC.