Boating can be a year-round pastime for many Texans, but just as temperatures vary greatly from one season to the next, the way you should deal with the threat of zebra mussels in different seasons varies as well.

An advisory from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) notes that cooler temperatures actually help to sustain zebra mussels.

“In fall and winter, cooler temperatures mean boaters must be especially vigilant to protect our lakes,” the TPWD advisory noted. “Invasive mussels transported on boats can survive much longer out of water when weather conditions are cold and humid versus hot and dry.”

Boats that have been in a reservoir or area known to be contaminated with zebra mussels are required to be decontaminated and inspected and must be allowed to completely dry before the boats can be used elsewhere. Reservoirs in the Brazos River basin where zebra mussels have been found include Lake Waco, Lake Belton, and Stillhouse Hollow Lake.

How much longer does it take a boat to dry out in the winter? The answer may surprise you.

“During mid-summer, at temperatures above 80 (degrees Fahrenheit), a boat may take only five days to dry after decontamination, but when temperatures start to cool down, dry times need to be extended. At 40 (degrees Fahrenheit) or cooler, a 30-day dry time is recommended.”

Texas law requires that boats, trailers and gear be completely drained once exiting a waterway. All water must also be drained from the boat, including the motor, bilge, live wells and bait buckets. If it is not possible to allow the boat to dry for 30 days, then the boat must be washed with a high-pressure washer with hot, soapy water at a temperature of at least 140 degrees.

So, why is draining and drying so important? Zebra mussels are small (only about 1.5 inches wide), one of them can produce up to one million microscopic larvae. These larvae, according to TPWD, “are invisible to the naked eye. They can survive for days in water trapped in a boat. The only way to be sure you’re not carrying water is to always clean, drain and dry your boat, trailer and gear.”

The damage done by these tiny and unwanted invaders is substantial.

“Zebra mussels can cause tremendous environmental and economic damage – hurting aquatic life, damaging your boat, hindering water recreation and even threatening your water supply.”

Beyond protecting your property and our state reservoirs/water supply, making sure your boat and equipment is free of zebra mussels can save you from breaking the law and paying a big fine.

TPWD notes that “possession or transportation of zebra mussels in Texas is a Class C misdemeanor for the first offense, punishable by a fine of up to $500. For repeat offenses, the crime is a Class B misdemeanor with a fine of up to $2,000 and a sentence of up to 180 days in jail. The law applies to all types and sizes of boats.

More information on zebra mussels and how to protect your property can be found here.

Photos for this article were provided courtesy of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.