Boat enthusiasts using any Texas lake or river must clean, drain and dry their watercraft to combat the spread of zebra mussels and other invasive species, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission said Thursday, expanding an existing rule to the entire state.
Zebra mussels were first confirmed in Texas in Lake Texoma in 2009 and since then have spread through North Texas and into Central Texas. They can clog pipes and damage boat motors and spread quickly.
The mandate takes effect July 1 but officials urged boaters to embrace the practice immediately. Now the rule will cover all of Texas.
"The way to comply with this requirement is simple," said Brian Van Zee, the agency's Inland Fisheries Division regional director. "All you have to do is clean, drain and dry your boat. This is critical, because in their initial state, zebra mussels are invisible to the naked eye."
Authorities believe infestations are accelerated by people who don't drain and clean their boats and trailers and move from waterway to waterway around the state.
Late last year, the mussels were found in Lake Belton, 60 miles north of Austin. It marked the first time zebra mussels were documented in the Brazos River basin, nearly 200 miles south of where they had been found previously in Texas. The wildlife commission responded by expanding the draining regulation to additional counties.
Officials fear the zebra mussels could get into Lake Travis and the other Highland Lakes of Central Texas.
"So far we haven't seen any evidence of zebra mussels," David Cowan, senior water quality coordinator at the Lower Colorado River Authority, said. The agency monitors the Highland Lakes.
"The mussels not only are a nuisance, but they could pose serious operational problems for the dams, water intake structures and the general health of the lakes," he said.
The new rule requires people leaving or approaching public water to drain all water from their vessels and on-board receptacles. It applies to all types and sizes of boats whether powered or not, personal watercraft, sailboats, kayaks and canoes, or any other vessel used on public waters.
No large-scale environmentally-safe methods eradicate the mussels and it is a misdemeanor crime to possess or transport the pest.
The species originated in the Balkans, Poland and the former Soviet Union. They made their way to the Americas in the 1980s via a ship's ballast water and were first found in 1988 in Michigan. Within 10 years, they had colonized all five Great Lakes, major river basins and infested at least 29 states and more than 600 U.S. lakes or reservoirs.