Texas Gov. Greg Abbott reopened state parks and people have flocked to lakes for fresh air and a healthy distraction.
But danger lurks with that decision if proper action isn’t taken after boating out on the open water.
Small and highly invasive zebra muscles have never heard of social distancing, and the sharp-shelled bivalve mollusks will latch on, mask or no mask.
And once they’ve found themselves in a body of water, there’s no getting rid of them.
Invasive zebra mussels have devastating economic, recreational, and environmental impacts, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Since 2009, when the first Texas infestation was identified in Lake Texoma, the department and partners have worked to monitor lakes.
So, if you’re traveling across the state or across the Brazos River basin with your boat and immediate family to enjoy some time on the water, please make sure you’re not also transporting zebra mussels from one location to another.
Starting as microscopic larvae, zebra mussels grow to only 1.5 inches long and spread across Texas by hitching a ride on a boat, trailer or gear. They reproduce quickly. They can block pipes that deliver water and can hinder recreational water opportunities because of the sharp shells which can quickly multiply on beaches or docks. They also harm fish population because they remove plankton from the food chain, according to the National Wildlife Federation.
It’s not just a request. It’s the law. The state requires every boat owner to drain the water from boats and onboard receptacles when leaving or approaching public fresh waters. Anyone leaving or approaching the lakes are required to drain all water from their vessels and on-board receptacles and this includes live wells, bilges, motors and any other receptacles or water-intake systems coming into contact with public waters. This rule applies at all sites where boats can be launched and includes all types and sizes of boats, whether powered or not, personal watercraft, sailboats, kayaks/canoes, or any other vessel used to travel on public waters.
And what happens if you're caught breaking the law? Well, the penalty for the first offense is a fine of up to $500. The penalty for a repeat offense is a fine of up to $2,000 and/or up to 180 days in jail, according to the TPWD.
So, here’s an easy way to remember how to protect our lakes: Clean, Drain, Dry.
Clean. Inspect your boat, trailer and gear and remove all plant material, mud and foreign objects.
Drain. Remove all water from the boat, including the motor, bilge, livewells and bait buckets.
Dry. Open all compartments and allow the boat and trailer to dry for at least a week or more before entering another body of water. If the boat and trailer cannot be dried for at least a week, wash them with high-pressure, hot soapy water.
Zebra mussels 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.”
Here’s some myths versus facts from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department:
MYTH: Zebra Mussels are primarily spread by floods.
TRUTH: While flooding can spread zebra mussels downstream, boats are responsible for transfer between river basins and even states.
MYTH: Turtles spread invasive zebra mussels.
TRUTH: Several species of turtles do eat zebra mussels; however, they completely pulverize them so there is no risk of spreading zebra mussels to new lakes. And turtles move too much for zebra mussels to attach to their shells.
MYTH: Zebra mussels are everywhere now. My actions won't make a difference.
TRUTH: There are still many water bodies in Texas that do not have invasive zebra mussels. Help prevent them from spreading by cleaning, draining and drying your boat and gear.
MYTH: Zebra mussels help us by cleaning dirty water.
TRUTH: Zebra mussels filter nutrients out of the water, making the water clearer while depriving other organisms of what they need to thrive. This upsets the lake's food web and affects game-fish population.
At this time, there are not zebra muscles in the three Brazos River Authority-owned and operated reservoirs: Possum Kingdom Lake, Lake Limestone and Lake Granbury.
Already there are 19 lakes in Texas across five river basins that are classified as fully infested with zebra mussels, meaning the water body has an established, reproducing population, according to TPWD.
Meanwhile, zebra mussels or their larvae have been detected on more than one occasion in 11 lakes. These lakes are labeled “positive,” which means there’s no evidence of a reproducing population.
• Infested Lakes
Austin, Belton, Bridgeport, Canyon, Dean Gilbert (a 45-acre Community Fishing Lake in Sherman), Granger, Eagle Mountain, Georgetown, Lady Bird, Lewisville, Livingston, Lyndon B. Johnson, Marble Falls, Pflugerville, Randell (local Denison access only), Ray Roberts, Stillhouse Hollow, Texoma, and Travis
• Positive Lakes
Lakes Dunlap, Fishing Hole, Grapevine, Lavon, McQueeney, O.H. Ivie, Placid, Richland Chambers, Walter E. Long, Waco, and Worth. River reaches downstream of infested lakes, including portions of the Colorado, Guadalupe, Lampasas, Leon, Little, Red, and Trinity rivers, are also positive for zebra mussels.
• Suspect Lakes
Lake Ray Hubbard
Zebra mussels, which are named after dark, zig-zagged stripes on each shell, create big problems. And it can cost big money to address infestations.
In January, the city of Austin approved spending up to $4 million to combat zebra mussels after it was determined both Lake Austin and Lake Travis were infested.
The mollusks have also been found in Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and California, according to the United States Geological Survey.
Learn more about zebra mussels here or at TexasInvasives.org. To read more on the state’s regulations go here.