This is the seventh lake in Texas contaminated by the tiny shellfish. They cause serious economic, environmental and recreational damage wherever they go. They clog pipes for drinking water, damage boat motors and make recreation hazardous because of their sharp edges.
Waco officials reported finding a couple of zebra mussels Friday during routine checks. Parks officials confirmed their presence Monday.
Brian Van Zee, inland fisheries regional director for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, said his crew found 19 or 20 adult mussels stuck to rocks or in the water near a boat ramp Monday and another 20 or so on Tuesday. The mussels appear to be isolated to that one area. Surveys of the lake will continue.
“Typically when a big reservoir is infected, there isn’t a lot you can do,” he said.
Zebra mussels usually are spread by hitching a ride on boats, boat trailers or other water gear that move from lake to lake.
City of Waco officials said they’ve been doing extensive public education for two years to try to prevent the zebra mussels’ spread to Lake Waco.
“It’s disappointing because we felt we got ahead of the curve,” said Jonathan Echols, public relations coordinator for the city’s water utility services.
He said the city gets 100 percent of its drinking water from the lake and provides water to nearby communities as well. Although zebra mussels don’t affect the water’s quality, they could increase the utility’s maintenance and operational costs.
It is illegal to possess or transport zebra mussels in Texas. Their larvae are invisible to the naked eye and can survive for days in a small amount of water. Adult mussels can attach to a boat and close their shells, sometimes surviving for weeks without water. That’s why people are required to clean, drain and dry all boats, trailers and gear when leaving Texas lakes.
Zebra mussels first showed up in Lake Texoma in 2009. In 2012, they were found in Lake Ray Roberts and the Elm Fork of the Trinity River. Last year, zebra mussels were confirmed in Lavon, Lewisville and Belton lakes and Lake Bridgeport.
Waco officials will probably have to change their education strategy to prevent further spread of zebra mussels to other lakes.
“Now that we have them, it’s kind of a game changer,” Echols said.