Zebra mussels, a destructive invasive species that has been rapidly spreading across Texas, have been discovered in Lake Belton in Central Texas and are suspected in Lakes Worth and Joe Pool, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department announced Thursday.Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Executive Director Carter Smith Wednesday signed an order adopting an emergency rule to add lakes Belton and Stillhouse Hollow, and portions of the Leon and Lampasas rivers to the list of water bodies covered by special regulations intended to control the spread of zebra mussels.Under these special regulations, which are also being proposed for 17 counties in North Texas, boaters who drain their boats and gear will not be considered in violation of rules prohibiting possession of zebra mussels. “The Lake Belton discovery underscores how critical it is for boaters all across Texas to get informed and involved to help stop the spread of zebra mussels,” said Brian Van Zee, TPWD Inland Fisheries regional director based in Waco.“Unfortunately, zebra mussel larvae, called veligers, are not visible to the naked eye. You could be transporting them on your boat and not even know it. This is why it’s particularly important to always clean, drain, and dry your boat and gear before heading to another water body,” Van Zee said in a news release.A Texas Mussel Watch volunteer who was looking for native mussels along the shores of Lake Belton on Sept. 18 when she found a giant floater mussel that had what she suspected was a zebra mussel attached to its shell.The zebra mussel was identified and a follow-up survey conducted by TPWD revealed that the mussels are well-established in Lake Belton where three sizes of the invasive species were found, indicating they were likely introduced to the reservoir in 2012.“This is very discouraging news for a several reasons,” said Van Zee. “Not only does this mark the first time that zebra mussels have been documented in the Brazos River basin, this new infestation is nearly 200 miles south of where zebra mussels are currently found in Texas. Unfortunately, this means that lakes in the central portion of the state are at even greater risk.” The wildlife agency’s monitoring of 23 other Texas reservoirs during the spring and summer also revealed the possible presence of zebra mussels in Lakes Worth and Joe Pool in North Texas.While zebra mussel DNA was detected in these two reservoirs, no adult zebra mussels or veligers have been found in either water body.DNA test results for both lakes were weak positives, and the fact that the presence of zebra mussels could not be confirmed by other methods means that these two lakes should be considered ‘suspect’ until further testing,” said Van Zee.Rules requiring boaters to drain all water from their vessels before leaving water bodies with confirmed populations of zebra mussels, have already been instituted for Lakes Texoma, Lavon, Ray Roberts, Lewisville, Bridgeport, Eagle Mountain and Worth; parts of the Red River; parts of the Elm Fork of the Trinity River; and all impounded and tributary waters of the West Fork of the Trinity River above the Lake Worth dam.Proposed regulations would require boaters to drain all water from their vessels before leaving any public waters in the 17 counties centered around Dallas-Fort Worth.The Texas Parks and Wildlife commission is expected to take action on the proposed change at its Nov. 7 meeting in Austin. Three public hearings on the proposal will be held in North Texas in October.The rules would apply to all types and sizes of boats, whether powered or not, as well as personal watercraft, sailboats or any other vessels.
Steve Campbell, 817-390-7981 Twitter: @stevecamp