Don't Pick Up Hitchhikers This Boating Season

Don't Pick Up Hitchhikers This Boating Season


Now that wet conditions have returned to most of the state, boats, kayaks, canoes and sailboards that have been stored away or land-locked in boat docks by long-term drought conditions will soon be headed to Texas rivers and reservoirs.

Though it may seem like a very long time since you last placed your watercraft in the water, after you’ve enjoyed the great outdoors, you must remember that important precautions are still necessary when taking it out of the water.

Zebra mussels have been sighted in two Brazos River Basin reservoirs, Lakes Waco and Belton. To help slow or prevent the spread of this extremely invasive species, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department encourages everyone to take steps to prevent the little hitchhikers from latching onto you and contaminating other state rivers and reservoirs.


What are Zebra Mussels?

Zebra mussels are bi-valve Mollusks that originate in Russia. They have spread to lakes across Europe and 29 states including Texas by attaching themselves to watercraft that are being moved from one body of water to another. They multiply rapidly and can quickly overtake bodies of water, filtering out nutrients that are important to the food chain that sustains fish and other aquatic life. There are no natural predators of these mollusks to keep their population numbers down in Texas water.


Why is it important to keep them contained?

Since the mussels produce rapidly and make their homes on anything and everything underwater, they attach themselves to the water supply pipes and pumps that move our drinking water from rivers and reservoirs and eventually to our homes. An infestation can entirely clog pipes becoming a costly problem for water providers, and in the long-run, to all water customers.

In May, 2012, a law went into effect in Texas to help stem the spread of this invasive species that requires all boaters to drain bait buckets, live wells, bilges and other systems or receptacles that contain water from their boats before traveling on public roads. Realizing the risks for serious damage to Texas lakes, state lawmakers have set penalties ranging from fines to jail times for those convicted of possessing or transporting zebra mussels and other potentially harmful aquatic creatures. Click here to read the statute on this issue.


What do I need to do?

To help prevent the mussels spread, here’s what boaters need to do:

  1. Clean all vegetation, mud, algae and other debris from the boat and trailer.
  2. Dry the vessel and associated equipment for 7 to 10 days from May through October or for 15 to 20 days from November through April. These drying times are approximations, and factors such as cooler air temperatures, higher humidity and whether or not the vessel is kept in dry storage should be considered.
  3. Power-washing with water that is at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit, along with flushing the motor, bilges, live wells and other water intake systems with 140-degree water will help kill the mussels. To be effective, the water coming out of the flushed systems needs to reach 140 degrees to ensure the entire system was exposed.
  4. If it is not possible to clean internally using 140-degree water, using straight vinegar or a chlorine bleach and water solution (one-half ounce bleach to one gallon water) can be effective at killing zebra mussels as long as the mixture is kept in contact with the mussels for 20 to 30 minutes.
  5. Once the treatment is complete, clean water should be used to flush the chemicals and dead mussels from the boat. Boat owners should check with their manufacturer to be sure using these chemicals will not void their warranties.
  6. Anglers should be sure to remove material from and wash all fishing tackle, downriggers and lines to prevent spreading small, larval forms of aquatic invaders.


What do I do if I think I’ve found Zebra Mussels?

If you find Zebra Mussels attached to your watercraft after visiting a Texas river or lake, after properly removing them you should report your finding to Texas Parks and Wildlife. You may also use the Texas Invasive website here as well.

Fighting the spread of invasive species is a responsibility for everyone that enjoys recreation on Texas waterways. You’ll be helping to ensure your drinking water is safe and affordable. For additional information on Zebra Mussels, go to http://texasinvasives.org/zebramussels/.