Boaters in Central Texas are now required to drain their watercraft to help fight the spread of invasive zebra mussels.

State officials recently approved adding 30 counties in North and Central Texas to the requirement including Bell and Coryell counties.

“Communicating the severity of the zebra mussel invasion to the public is important for several reasons,” said Virginia Sanders, a Fort Hood biologist. “These zebra mussels negatively impact the ecosystem, the water supply infrastructure and the recreational quality of the waters.”

Zebra mussels were discovered in Belton Lake in September. The small, invasive species is one-eighth to 2 inches long, has a striped, yellow-brown shell and uses byssal threads to attach to rocks and other hard surfaces. Each one can produce 30,000 to 1 million offspring a year and cause significant damage. Zebra mussels can shut down a city’s water supply by colonizing inside pipelines. They also can sink buoys and docks and damage boats and other structures in the water.

“The lessons learned from the zebra mussel infestation in the Great Lakes tells us that over the next few decades the zebra mussels will deplete the nutrients in Belton Lake, which will ultimately cause a decline in the abundance of fish and native freshwater mussels,” Sanders said.

Stocking of live channel catfish for sport fishing will be discontinued in any Fort Hood lake or pond that becomes infected with zebra mussels. Military units also are required to drain and clean military vehicles after conducting training in the waters of Belton Lake.

To help prevent the invasive species spreading to other bodies of water, individuals leaving or approaching public water in the affected counties are required to drain all water from their vessels and on-board receptacles. This applies to all types and sizes of boats whether powered or not, personal watercraft, sailboats, or any other vessel used to travel on public waters.

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