Corps halts plan to pipe zebra mussel-infested water to clean lake

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by DAVID SCHECHTER

Bio | Email | Follow: @davidschechter

WFAA

Posted on July 14, 2011 at 10:00 PM

Updated Friday, Jul 15 at 10:47 AM

DALLAS - Zebra mussels are like the zombies of the water — you can't kill them... and then they take over.

The invasive species crashes fish populations by hogging nutrients and then they attach their razor-sharp bodies to boats and docks.

"It's mind boggling how bad this is,” said Cliff Moore, a naturalist who said Texas is not doing enough to stop the spread of zebra mussels beyond Lake Texoma.

Now, News 8 has learned that last November, the North Texas Municipal Water District decided it would pump zebra-mussel infested water from Lake Texoma to Lake Lavon so it could meet demand for its 1.5 million water users.

Experts say doing that would spread the infestation into Lavon and other lakes, but filtering the zebra mussels out was just too expensive.

"Best case, you're probably talking about $50 to $60 million,” said Jim Parks, executive director of the NTWD. "Worst case, you're probably talking about in excess of $100 million."

Containing the spread of zebra mussels is the job of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. A News 8 investigation found that the department, contrary to its own mission, had quietly signed off on a plan that would have transferred huge quantities of infested waters into clean lakes.

News 8 learned the Water District asked Texas Parks Wildlife to bless its plan to pump zebra mussel infested waters from Texoma to Lavon. Despite the state's mission to protect lakes and rivers, Parks and Wildlife agreed.

In e-mails, obtained by News 8, Parks and Wildlife executive director Carter Smith wrote, "We will need to respect that decision."

"We're in a tight spot here, but candidly don't see any other reasonable and practicable alternatives," he added.

In an phone interview with News 8, Smith said he was balancing the needs of the water utility with the needs of protecting wildlife.

"It was a decision that we felt like we had to respect knowing full well there were likely to be some consequences for that,” he added.

"It seems to me that clearly violates the very core charter of Texas Parks and Wildlife to protect our natural resources for future generations,” said naturalist Cliff Moore. "A true tragedy."

A senior manager for the US Fish and Wildlife Service agreed. In an e-mail obtained by News 8, he wrote, "I fail to see how a temporary inconvenience can outweigh the irreparable ecological and economic damage that will soon result once the pipeline is re-opened without filtration."

Then, before the Water District could even pump a drop, the US Corps of Engineers stepped in. The federal government said "no" to any plan that would transfer infested waters. That means, now, North Texas Municipal Water District is on the hook for a solution that may cost water users $100 million or more.

It's a cost they hoped to avoid, with the blessing of Texas Parks and Wildlife.

E-mail: dchechter@wfaa.com

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