LAKE TEXOMA — Boaters will soon be heading back to North Texas lakes, and they need to watch out for zebra mussels.
The invasive species is creeping into area lakes and waterways. The mussels multiply quickly, and can cause big problems.
Zebra mussels spread rapidly throughout the Great Lakes region, and eventually to 23 states.
So far, more than 230 U.S. lakes have reported zebra mussels. One lake in Texas is plagued with the problem: Lake Texoma.
If boaters don't change the way they do things, it could hurt the ecological system and also damage the water treatment system.
"You've got to actually grab them pretty hard to pull them off," said Brian Van Zee, regional director for Texas Parks and Wildlife.
Zebra mussels can be seen clinging tightly to the engine of a boat that was just pulled out of Lake Texoma. If boaters are not careful, the creatures could contaminate another lake.
"If whoever owns the boat was to go down the road, these would not necessarily fall off; they would hang on tight until they got to the next boat ramp," Van Zee explained.
Right now, Lake Texoma is the only lake in Texas with these mollusks. A lawn chair pulled out of the water and covered with the mussels demonstrates how this invasive species has multiplied.
It's estimated that the population now is several hundred million.
"I think its a problem... a real big problem," said biologist Bruce Hysmith. "They are actually depriving native species of a source of food."
The mussels are also clogging water pipes, so this become a costly problem.
"The worst case scenario is that we would have to construct a pipeline from Lake Texoma and have it extend to the water treatment plant in Wiley," said North Texas Municipal Water District spokeswoman Denise Hickey.
A new pipeline would cost $150 million, so officials are warning boaters to be diligent and to clean off zebra mussels that look harmless, but are wreaking havoc in so many ways.
Boaters could face up to a $2,000 fine and six months in jail if they are caught with zebra mussels on their boat.
Boat owners can use vinegar to remove them. A boat should be left to dry for five hours before setting sail again.