AUSTIN — Bolstered by record funding from the Texas Legislature, a multi-partner coalition of river authorities, cities and nonprofits is stepping up the war against invasive species, including one of the worst noxious aquatic pests—zebra mussels.
With the busy summer boating season getting underway, a major public awareness campaign is calling for boaters to help stop the spread of this destructive invader that can clog water pipes, foul shorelines, damage boats, harm aquatic life and cost taxpayers millions of dollars.
“This is a significant economic as well as environmental issue for all of us,” said Janet Rummel with the North Texas Municipal Water District, a campaign partner. “Water rates for our customers have increased due in part to the $300 million Lake Texoma pipeline that had to be built to keep zebra mussels from spreading. We all need to do our part to keep this invasive species in check.”
The campaign urges boaters to “Clean, Drain and Dry” their boats, trailers, and gear before traveling from one lake or river to another. Boats are the primary way invasive species like zebra mussels are spread. Although the emphasis is on encouraging people to do the right thing voluntarily, it is illegal to possess or transport any exotic aquatic plant or animal listed as harmful or potentially harmful, with possible fines of $25-$500.
About $375,000 is being invested in the zebra mussel awareness campaign, which runs from May to the end of August to reach boaters as they’re out on the water this summer. It includes online and radio ads, billboards, advertising at gas stations, and targeted outreach and advertising to marinas around infested lakes. Additional dollars have also been allocated to hire aquatic invasive species technicians who will conduct outreach efforts, including courtesy boat inspections at different locations throughout the summer, and monitor Texas lakes for early detection of new zebra mussel invasions.
The zebra mussel campaign is part of a broader, statewide effort targeting multiple aquatic invasive threats. Recognizing what’s at stake, the Texas Legislative appropriated $6.6 million to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department for the 2016-2017 biennium to address statewide management of aquatic invasive species, an increase from $1.1 million in the previous two-year funding cycle.
Since zebra mussels were first found in Texas in 2009, six Texas lakes in three river basins are now fully infested, meaning they have an established, reproducing population and boats could transfer them from these lakes to new areas. Zebra mussels have been found on isolated occasions in five other Texas lakes. See the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department zebra mussel web page for a map and details on affected water bodies. People who find zebra mussels on their boat or have stored their boat in an infested lake can call 800-792-4263 before moving it.
Originally from Eurasia, zebra mussels reproduce rapidly, posing serious economic and recreational threats. They can clog public-water intake pipes, harm boats and motors, clog water-cooling systems, annoy boat-dock owners by completely covering anything left under water, and make water recreation hazardous because of their sharp edges.
From an ecological perspective, zebra mussels are filter feeders which compete with baitfish such as shad for available forage. Any impact on baitfish can in turn affect their predators — game fish such as bass and catfish. Zebra mussels can also harm beneficial yet often imperiled native mussel populations by attaching onto their shells and suffocating them.
The public can learn more about zebra mussels at http://texasinvasives.org/zebramussels/.
News media can access video, photos, audio files, maps showing zebra mussel infested lakes, a new infographic illustrating the problem and solutions, plus other resources in a Zebra Mussels News Roundup on the TPWD website.
The coalition of partners supporting this year’s campaign for this year’s zebra mussel awareness campaign include the North Texas Municipal Water District; Tarrant Regional Water District; City of Dallas Water Utilities Department; Trinity River Authority; San Jacinto River Authority; Sabine River Authority; Brazos River Authority; Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority; Lower Colorado River Authority; Upper Trinity Regional Water District; Water Oriented Recreation District of Comal County; and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center; as well as the federal Sport Fish Restoration fund.