Zebra mussels found in Lake Austin

Zebra mussels (Daniel Guerrero/KXAN)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — An invasive species has made its way into Lake Austin, making it the third Central Texas reservoir to have zebra mussels found in the area this year.

Last week biologists tested the water and found a zebra mussel larva in a sample near the Tom Miller Dam. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Inland Fisheries and City of Austin staff also found half-inch long adult mussels on a barge and flotation devices near the Walsh Boat Landing on Aug. 9.

Because zerbra mussels can cause damage to machinery, Austin Water is keeping a close eye on its two intake facilities on Lake Austin. The pipes at the facility are are 25 feet down, which is shallow enough for zebra mussels to clog up.

Operations manager for Austin Water Mehrdad Morabbi says they are increasing their inspections.

“It depends on which direction the growth grows and what level of population we will have in the lake. It may not be a big deal if the population is controlled,” said Morabbi.

They plan to expand a contract with dive team inspectors to several times a year because if the mussels get out of hand, it will be more than a budget buster to clean up the mess.

“They can create taste and odor issues if there is a high population there and it can have kind of a domino issue impact on the environment,” said Morabbi.

“We knew that when they were infesting Lake Travis, it was a matter of time before they moved to Lake Austin,” said Liz Johnston, from the City of Austin’s Watershed Department.

Because the creatures are in Lake Austin now, it’s not only boaters that need to clean, drain, and dry, but also kayakers, paddle boarders, even fisherman who let their equipment stand in the water.

“Even if you don’t see yourself as a boater. You still need to be aware that you could be spreading these organisms to other water bodies,” said Johnston.

Two months ago biologists discovered a healthy population of zebra mussels in Lake Travis, officials do not know if the mussels spread downstream to Lake Austin or if an infested boat brought them to the area.

“Both Lake Austin and Lake Travis have a lot of boating traffic and a lot of use,” said Brian Van Zee, Inland Fisheries regional director. “We really need all boaters to be diligent in their ‘clean, drain and dry’ efforts before leaving a lake.”

Zebra mussels can ruin shorelines, hurt aquatic life and damage boats, according to TPWD. That’s why it’s illegal for people to possess or transport them, either dead or alive. It recommends all boaters remove their drain plugs and pump out as much water as possible from ballast tanks, bilges and livewells before leaving or heading to any bodies of fresh water. Expect to see more signs reminding boaters to do just that.

Zebra mussels were first spotted in Texas in 2009. Since then, 11 lakes in five river basins have been infested.

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