AUSTIN, Texas - With the water level at Lake Travis low, it is easy to see evidence of the zebra mussel infestation. But what you won’t find in your water is the smell of the infestation.
"You know a few years ago, we didn't worry about zebra mussels, and then here they are and we have to make these investments,” said Austin Water Director Greg Meszaros.
The investments, according to Meszaros, have produced an important milestone.
"We no longer have zebra mussels in our raw water piping. So, last time we had a zebra mussel die off and that created some of the taste and odor issues for some of our customers, and by getting them out of our raw water pipe we eliminate that risk," said Meszaros.
Austin Water's zebra mussel mitigation program was launched after intake facilities started clogging up. This video shows how work crews dig out piles of shells. Divers go into the lakes to inspect grates and clean them off.
A new chemical system is also being used. It involves a solution of copper sulfate pentahydrate.
FOX 7 Austin spoke to Allison, a water customer who declined to give her last name, about the program. She said her water is okay but wanted to know more about the copper sulfate. The chemical solution is not put into the lake but in the pipes where it kills off zebra mussels and prevents new growth.
"This is added to the raw water, so this is before it goes through any treatment. So the raw water will go through the full treatment process, and lastly, we add this chemical in a low dose, much lower than even the recommended amount,” said Meszaros.
A big exposure to the chemical would be the only risk, according to Meszaros. "That’s right, for any customer they will never have to worry about this,” said Meszaros.
To address exposure concerns and eliminate the need for the chemical flush, Austin Water is designing a new copper ion generator system. It will use electricity and copper electrodes to clean raw water pipes.
But Meszaros made it clear all this work is for mitigation, not eradication. "Yeah it's part of a changing world, between climate change and covid, invasive species, the conditions are changing with more severe weather, right, we are having to adapt in ways we didn't expect to,” said Meszaros.
Austin Water hopes to officially declare its internal raw intake pipes will be zebra free by the end of the year. The agency has spent $1.9 million dollars so to get to that point. There’s also $4 million over the next 5 years for chemical costs.