Is there more Texas could do to curb zebra mussels lake threat?

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by DAVID SCHECHTER

Bio | Email | Follow: @davidschechter

WFAA

Posted on May 19, 2011 at 10:40 PM

Updated Friday, May 20 at 6:00 PM

DENISON - Zebra mussels are harmless to people but disastrous to one of the places people love best, lakes and rivers. 

Once a body of water is infested, zebra mussels spread fast and crowd out fish by hogging their food supply.   

In 2009, zebra mussels were found for the first time in Texas in Lake Texoma. About 1.5 million North Texans rely on Texoma for a large part of their drinking water supply, or they did.

"We don't want to accelerate the spread of the mussel,” said Jim Parks, executive director of the North Texas Municipal Water District. 

Since the discovery, the North Texas Municipal Water District has not pumped a single drop from Texoma to its treatment plant on Lake Lavon. That has led to water conservation measures in cities across North Texas.

The utility is trying to prevent the transfer of the mussels from the Red River Valley to the Trinity River Valley. Turning the water back on may require rate payers to fund a complex filtration system.

"Best case, you're probably talking about $50 to $60 million," Parks said. "Worst case, you're probably talking about, in excess of $100 million."

But, the trouble with that very expensive solution is that a single boat can just as easily transfer zebra mussels from lake to lake, and Texas has not set aside any money to specifically educate boaters about their role in controlling the problem.

"We don't have a budget set for zebra mussels in particular, no,” said Brian Van Zee, who is the zebra mussel point person for Texas Parks and Wildlife.

He said Texas has trained game wardens and marina owners on how to spot zebra mussels. But, he said, the state can't afford an aggressive campaign to educate boaters.

For a different take, News 8 traveled to Minnesota, where they've succeeded in slowing the spread of zebra mussels. The state spends $5 million a year fighting invasive species. That money is funded by boat licenses fees.

This year, 110 low-paid college interns will inspect about 65,000 boats and educate boaters about the problem face-to-face.

"We're trying to have a very positive impact and most people are very receptive to that," said Heidi Wolf, Watercraft Inspection Program Director for Minnesota. "They're willing to do the right thing, they just need to know what that is.”

News 8 asked Van Zee why Texas has not set up a program where inspectors go and look at boats.

"Well, one of the things we face in terms of our lakes, we've got so many boat ramps and public access points on them we essentially can't be at every boat ramp on every lake 24-7,”  Van Zee said.

That concern has not stopped the successful boat inspection program in the "Land of 10,000 Lakes." Nor does it diminish the interest of the North Texas Municipal Water District. Parks said he would support an inspection program in Texas, and so might water users who may pay $100 million to stop the spread of zebra mussels only to have a single boat undo it all.

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