Texas Parks & Wildlife explains the 'zebra mussel' crisis

Zebra mussels:  Icky...to say the least...

"It's a bi-valve shellfish so it has two shells," said Monica McGarrity with Texas Parks & Wildlife.  

And they're becoming a major problem for Texas lakes, rivers and water utilities.  

McGarrity says zebra mussels are considered an invasive species. "These species were brought over from EurAsia to, originally the Great Lakes in North America, and they're brought over here in ballast water of large ocean-going ships and potentially on anchors," McGarrity said.

McGarrity says they first appeared in North America in the late '80s.  In 2009, zebra mussels were found in Lake Texoma. "Since then they've continued to spread.  And we now have 15 lakes that are classified as fully infested," she said. 

That Texas Parks & Wildlife list includes Lake Austin, Lady Bird Lake and Lake Travis.

On Thursday, Austin Water told the press, water in some parts of town smelt and tasted bad because they found zebra mussels in a raw water pipeline at the Ullrich Treatment Plant.

They said the water is safe to drink. "This pipeline is about 72 inches in diameter so we saw roughly about a 2-inch layer of zebra mussels," said  Rick Coronado with Austin Water on Thursday.

McGarrity says zebra mussels have been known to form a crust in pipelines up to 14 inches thick in the past. She says they typically live a year and a half to two years...they keep attaching and attaching.  

So in that Austin Water pipe we're talking mussels both alive and dead.

"All of that decaying matter can start to make the water taste really bad for obvious reasons, smell really bad. And then they also have the ability to selectively choose to not digest certain algae and those algae increasing in the water can also cause a lot of bad taste issues," McGarrity said.

So what do we do?  

McGarrity says there's no "silver bullet" for zebra mussels despite there being some promising research out there. When boaters leave a lake, they're required to drain the water from their boats and it's illegal to possess and transport mussels. "The main goal is to prevent their spread and try to detect them early so that we can again try to reduce the impacts, or prevent some of the worst of the impacts on water utilities, hydroelectric facilities," McGarrity said.



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