Attack of the zebra mussels
Zebra mussels, the invasive species that have clogged pipes and littered shorelines with razor-sharp shells across much of the United States, have arrived in Tarrant County.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department confirmed Wednesday that the mussels have been found in Lake Worth and Eagle Mountain Lake.
“I think we all knew this was going to happen eventually but we hoped it would take longer to progress from Lake Bridgeport downstream into these lakes,” said Fort Worth Water Department spokeswoman Mary Gugliuzza. “We were prepared to address it. The news today means we’ll have to address it sooner.”
Lake Bridgeport, Lake Worth and Eagle Mountain Lake are located in the Trinity River basin. The mussels have also been found at Lake Livingston in East Texas, which is also on the Trinity.
Gugliuzza said a TPWD official found zebra mussel shells at the Arrow S Boat ramp near the Loop 820 bridge.
The recent flooding events may have helped expedite their move.
Mary Gugliuzza, Fort Worth Water Department
She said that recent heavy rainfall and subsequent flooding along the Trinity River may have contributed to the infestation of the Tarrant County lakes.
“We knew there was a strong possibility they could move downstream to Eagle Mountain and Lake Worth,” Gugliuzza said. “The recent flooding events may have helped expedite their move.”
The mussels can also be transported by boats, and state law requires that boaters drain all water from their boats before leaving or launching into a lake to help keep them from spreading.
“Boaters’ actions are absolutely vital to help prevent zebra mussels from spreading to any new river basins. Three simple steps can help stop them and help you stay within the law,” said Brian Van Zee, Inland Fisheries Regional Director for TPWD.
Besides clogging public-water intake pipes and boat motors, the razor-sharp mussels negatively impacts the natural ecosystem of lakes.
The Tarrant Regional Water District, which manages Lake Bridgeport, Eagle Mountain Lake and Lake Worth, has long been aware of the problems that come with zebra mussels.
“We continue to work closely with our customers on ways to mitigate the problems the zebra mussels cause around intake structures at the lakes,” said Chad Lorance, TRWD spokesman. “We have also been planning ways to lessen the impact on our pipelines and other structures such as our spillways.”
The invasive species are native to the Caspian Sea area of Asia. They are believed to have made their way to North America in the 1980s via the ballast water of a ship. They were first found in the Great Lakes region.
Later this year, Fort Worth will likely hire divers to inspect intake valves to determine if they need to be mechanically cleaned, Gugliuzza said. It could also mean pumping a mixture of chlorine and ammonia through pipelines to prevent the creatures from becoming established.
Zebra mussels were first discovered in Texas in 2009. The invasive species are native to the Caspian Sea area of Asia. They are believed to have made their way to North America in the 1980s in the ballast water of a ship. They were first found in the Great Lakes region.
Six Texas lakes in three river basins — Texoma, Ray Roberts, Lewisville, Bridgeport, Dean Gilbert (a 45-acre Community Fishing Lake in Sherman) and Belton — are now fully infested, which means those lakes now have a reproducing population.
Other lakes that have tested positive include Waco and Fishing Hole Lake (a small lake connected to the Trinity River below Lake Lewisville).
The expanded rules
The statewide regulations that requires boaters to drain their boats went into effect on July 1, 2014.
Possession or transportation of zebra mussels in Texas is a Class C misdemeanor for the first offense, and is punishable by a fine up to $500.
The rules require boaters to drain water from all types of vessels, powered or not, and on-board receptacles. It also requires draining live wells, bilges, motors, and any other receptacles or water-intake systems coming into contact with public waters.
Live fish, including personally caught live bait, cannot be transported in a vessel in water that comes from the water body where they were caught. Personally caught live bait can be used in the water body where it was caught.
Preventing the spread
One zebra mussel can produce up to one million microscopic larvae, which is one reason it is important for boaters to clean and dry their boats, even if they don't see any evidence of the mussel.
Boaters should clean their boat, trailer and all gear and then drain all water from the boat, including the motor, bilge, live wells and bait buckets, before leaving the lake.
Then, it is recommended to dry the boat for a week or more before entering another body of water, or to wash it with a high-pressure washer with hot, soapy water.