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New Rules and Measures Battle Invasive Zebra Mussels

Jul 07, 2014 12:01 PM EDT

Zebra mussels are taking over Texas lakes, and water treatment plants as well as wildlife officials are battling these invasive shellfish to prevent them from multiplying further.

As of July 1, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission ordered all boaters on Texas lakes or rivers to drain all water from their vessels and on-board receptacles, rinse them and dry them. The regulation applies to anyone on any type of vessel, from boats to kayaks, leaving or approaching public water.

Zebra mussels, which have sharp, small shells, attach and multiply on nearly everything in the water, including boats, docks and pipelines.

"More or less, once they attach, that's it," Monica McGarrity, a biologist for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, who is currently scouring these lakes for any sign of the marine creatures, told the Associated Press. "Then they filter, filter, filter. All of the stuff I'm catching here. They filter away and that's how they make the water more clear. They're eating all the nutrients that the fish eat."

And the clearer the water, the more sunlight that gets in, allowing undesirable plants to thrive, thereby disrupting the food chain and hurting the native fish population.

Though the new rule may be an inconvenience, it's worth it to stop these mussels in their tracks before they spread to other areas.

"Once they're in, it doesn't take long," said Robert McMahon, a University of Texas at Arlington biology professor.

These critters, native to the Caspian Sea area in Asia, were first introduced into the Great lakes in the 1980s, the Globe Gazette reported. They were first documented in Texas in April 2009 in Lake Texoma.

Besides the new boating cleanup rules, Texas water treatment plants are implementing their own measures to control the problem. According to the Denton Record-Chronicle, city officials have plans for a four-part project - totaling $3.05 million and starting in 2015 - that involves the cleaning and removal of zebra mussels from the raw water piping at the Ray Roberts water treatment plant, designing and implementing control measures for treatment plants at both Lewisville Lake and Ray Roberts Lake.

"If that doesn't work, we will have to go to our next step, which has not been identified yet, but we think the improvements we're making now will do it," said Jason Pierce, manager of watershed and contract services for the Upper Trinity Regional Water District.

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