Zebra mussels in Texoma lead to seasonal pumping debate



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Posted on September 16, 2011 at 11:54 PM

LAKE TEXOMA - Zebra mussels are like zombies of the water; You can't kill them, and then they take over.

They crash fish populations by hogging nutrients and attaching their razor-sharp bodies to boats and docks.

Once biologists believed zebra mussels could not survive in warm Texas water. They were wrong.

Now the mussels are thriving in Lake Texoma.

Lake Texoma is where the North Texas Municipal Water District gets 30 percent of its supply. Currently, the federal government won't allow the utility to pump water from Texoma in fear that it would spread the mussels to more lakes across Texas.

It's a major factor leaving 1.5 million water users in places like Plano and Richardson to cut back on water use.

"It makes it very difficult during times of extreme drought and triple-digit weather," said Denise Hickey, spokeswoman for the North Texas Municipal Water District.

The water utility said it can safely pump water out of Texoma when the water temperature falls below 54 degrees. They say zebra mussels don't lay eggs when the water is that cold. The process is called 'seasonal pumping.'

"The wheels are in motion and we will be ready to begin pumping in late December when the water temperatures allow us to begin," Hickey said.

Not so fast, said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has the final say on controlling the spread of zebra mussels.

"It is not a given that they will be able to start pumping when the water temperature reaches 54 degrees this winter," said Andy Commer, a spokesman for the Corps.

While it supports the science behind the idea, the Corps is still seeking public input from people like Cliff Moore

"Incredible, false, misleading, deceptive, bad plan," said Moore.

Moore is a naturalist and he said experts were wrong when they said zebra mussels could not live in the warm waters of Texas, and they might be wrong again.

"There is no safe window for seasonal pumping of the water," Moore said. "If they pump, they will contaminate all of the Trinity watershed."

The water utility and the Corps of Engineers believe it can be done safely.

"We would have pretty high confidence that there wouldn't have any live zebra mussel larvae in the water that would be pumped," Commer said.

Moore wonders if "pretty high confidence" if high enough, considering how quickly zebra mussels will spread across Texas if the science is wrong.

E-mail dschechter@wfaa.com