Why invasive zebra mussels are costing taxpayers

By Sarah Acosta - Reporter, Robert Samarron - Photojournalist

CANYON LAKE, Texas - Small and sharp zebra mussels have taken over 17 Texas lakes, and the invasion is costing taxpayers.

Earlier this month, Canyon Lake residents had a water shortage after zebra mussels clogged up one of the main water supply intake pipes for Canyon Lake Water Service Company.

The plant was temporarily shut down for intake pipes and pumps to be cleaned.

Everything is back up and running now, and only residents living north of the lake are being asked to help conserve water by not watering lawns at this time.

Every time the little invaders have to get scraped off, it costs you, the taxpayer.  

“The costs for the cleaning up those structures, the screens and the intake pipes — that will get passed onto the consumer,” said Mukhtar Farooqi, a fisheries biologist with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. “We will see increased rates if the infestation is bad.”

Farooqi said zebra mussels reproduce quickly and thousands of them can quickly take over lakes.

He said zebra mussels cause the following problems:
Clog up water supply pipes
Take away food supply for local species
Cause water to become foul smelling or foul tasting

“Then they decompose and then they create a foul-smelling problem,” Farooqi said. “Then those people that were supplied with that water, they ended up getting smelly foul-tasting water.”

The zebra mussels first invaded Texas lakes in 2009. Biologists say it was most likely they came through on boats that are not properly cleaned.

Farooqi said people need to clean their boats thoroughly and let them dry for several weeks before putting them into another fresh body of water to prevent the mussels from spreading.

“The juveniles are microscopic,” he said. “You can't see them, and they could be in any amount of water that's remaining in your boat.”

Once the zebra mussels invade a lake, they are there permanently. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department can’t use chemicals to get rid of them because that would risk harming other species or the environment.

Since zebra mussels are an invasive species, there are no predators that eat them in North American fresh bodies of water, according to Farooqi. He said with no predators to keep them in check, they can quickly take over a lake.

On Friday, the Canyon Lake Water Service Company released the following updated statement to Canyon Lake residents:

 

“Last month, our Canyon Lake Shores SWTP which provides the majority of the drinking water to customers on the north side and west side of Canyon Lake, including the cities of Blanco, Spring Branch, and Bulverde, was impacted by a Zebra Mussel infestation.  While CLWSC had been regularly monitoring its intake pipes for zebra mussels since they were first detected in the summer of 2017, this incursion was the result of zebra mussels attaching themselves to the pumps that move water through the intake pipes.  Water production decreased to about 50% of normal operating capacity and the plant was shut down so that the pump and intakes that bring water in from the lake could be inspected and cleaned.  Operators are meeting with specialized contractors this weekend to develop a plan for continued removal of zebra mussels without turning the plant off.  While the zebra mussels continue to impede our ability to run the plant at full capacity, our teams are working on short-term and long-term solutions to combat this invasive species as zebra mussels are here to stay.  Long-term solutions include redesigning and enlarging the intake pipe structure to allow easier access to pumps and pipes that sit underwater and using construction materials that zebra mussels can’t as easily adhere to.  We will share more details in the future."

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