AUSTIN, Texas (FOX 7 Austin) - Zebra mussels continue to spread through the Highland Lakes and Lower Colorado River.
“This is something that needs to be taken seriously,” said John Higley, CEO and principal scientist of EQO.
Texas Parks and Wildlife said with the new addition of Lake LBJ and Lake Pflugerville, zebra mussels have now infested 17 Texas lakes.
“They essentially change the entire ecosystem of the lake,” Higley said.
The mussels filter the water and eat most kinds of algae, except the toxic kind. Clear water, high temperatures and less competition actually helps toxic algae, like the kind recently found at Red Bud Isle, bloom.
“We're all working on it. Hopefully, we can get this treated because, obviously, the issues recently on Red Bud Isle are unacceptable,” said Higley.
While experts believe the presence of zebra mussels in Lake LBJ was likely caused by boats transporting larvae, that's not the case at Lake Pflugerville. Instead, the culprit at Lake Pflugerville is believed to be a pipeline that transfers water from the Lower Colorado River. The City of Pflugerville said zebra mussels were first spotted at the intake pipe there last year. Texas Parks and Wildlife said they have now infested the reservoir.
“It doesn't seem like there's hope, but there is hope,” Higley said.
In a statement the city said,
"We currently use divers to keep an eye on zebra mussels and clean affected equipment. A design is underway to mitigate the effects of zebra mussels on our pump station equipment. We are also posting signage to notify swimmers and recreational guests to the lake that zebra mussels are present and to exercise caution and clean boats."
“The good news about Lake Pflugerville is, since it is a closed system, this is an area where we could treat this and get rid of it,” said Higley.
Zebra mussels can harm aquatic species, cover surfaces with sharp shells, clog water intakes, and damage boats and motors. Their larvae are microscopic. Scientists said the best way to prevent them from spreading any further is to clean boats and gear, drain all water from it, and dry it for a week or more before visiting another body of water.
“Huge problems with wake board boats, then, after that, you have the regular motor boats and then kayaks, things like that, canoes and even down to your swimwear,” Higley said.
While experts said ignoring the clean, drain, dry rule could cost boaters a hefty fine, it could cost cities millions more to fix and even put the water supply in jeopardy.
“We cannot take water for granted. It is not an unlimited resource. It is not something that just shows up out of the tap on the blue,” said Higley.
Higley said one issue with treating zebra mussels is how it could affect other native mussel species, some of which are expected to be endangered this coming spring.