They seem harmless, sitting at only a few centimeters long, but they present a huge ecologic and economic threat to Texas waters. Zebra mussels, named after the black stripes along their shells, can damage fishery production, aquatic life, and the Texas water-supply infrastructure. These little creatures can cost Texans hundreds of millions of dollars!
Over the past few weeks, the mussel population infested two Texas river systems - Canyon Lake on the Guadalupe River and Lake Travis on the Colorado River.
Though the state has made serious efforts to contain these creatures, they are usually spread by unknowing boaters who carry the mussels from infested to new waters. The consequences can be fast and extensive.
The mussel population has explosive population growth, with each mussel capable of producing 1 million eggs per year. Mussels reproduce in such dense concentrations that they can completely coat surfaces. Even more, the mussel population is nearly impossible to eradicate, and it thrives in waters with alkaline or neutral pH levels, such as those in north and central Texas.
What does this mean for Texas? Well, the sheer density of the mussel populace can clog and close water management and transportation infrastructure systems, like gates, pump parts and pipes. This damage has cost billions nationwide. When the zebra mussels invaded Texoma, the North Texas Municipal Water District had to spend $300 million to construct a new 46-mile pipeline to treat the infested water. As a result, customers saw a 14% jump in their water rate.
The impact of zebra mussels doesn’t stop there. The animals can alter a water body's chemistry by straining calcium and other minerals from the water in order to build their shells. They also consume vast quantities of plankton, a supply that other species depend on to survive. This causes the water to lose its fertility to support other aquatic life, in turn hurting fishing opportunities for Texans.
Along with taking water resources, the mussels gather in the hundreds and coat other creatures in the water, smothering the native animals. According to the Department of Parks and Wildlife, this is a particular concern in the Colorado and the Guadalupe Rivers. The Department is worried that the Guadalupe holds a fragile population of native mussels, including three species listed as threatened under Texas law.
As Texans with a deep love and appreciation for fishing and boating, we must be educated on the dangers of zebra mussels. We know that boats spread these hazardous creatures. Though the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission adopted regulations in 2013 requiring all boaters to strain and dry all water from their boats, kayaks, and more, Texas holds more than one million boats and welcomes non-residents into its waters regularly! Texans love a weekend on the lake with family, friends, and great food and music - so we regularly use our boats on multiple bodies of water.
Simply put, the odds are stacked against us when it comes to these zebra mussels, so we must all take responsibility to help prevent their spread. Next time you go out on the boat, remember the clean-drain-dry rule. This only takes a few minutes, but it is very effective and can make a huge difference.