The recent discovery of invasive zebra mussels in Belton Lake could wreak havoc on the Central Texas reservoir with their potential to create long-term logistical complications for the local water supply.
But Bell County Water Control and Improvement District No. 1 officials aren’t sounding any alarms just yet.
Jerry Atkinson, WCID-1 general manager, said it’s unknown at what level the mussels will affect Belton Lake, but testing procedures conducted showed the infestation is “not severe at the moment.” He said that doesn’t mean it couldn’t get severe.
Brian Van Zee, Texas Parks and Wildlife Region 2 director, said the black-and-white striped bivalves were found in the Brazos River basin’s Belton Lake on Sept. 18.
“What makes (zebra mussels) so detrimental to municipalities and water intake structures is that they have the ability to attach to any hard surface under the water,” he said. “They start colonizing and they spawn. As they spawn, their larvae will start to attach to hard surfaces and they’ll start growing.”
The mussels essentially pile themselves on top of one another, which over time could restrict water flow as they colonize in pipes, causing pumps to have to work harder and, in turn, creating an increase in operational maintenance costs for the entities affected by the invasion, Van Zee said.
Atkinson said if the infestation “gets out of hand” it could get expensive and cause a lot of damage, but the district is monitoring the invader before it has the ability to cause extensive damage and drive up water costs.
“I don’t want people to be alarmed,” he said. “We are monitoring those that are on our intake structure and we have protocols in place should they get in the structure. We will do whatever we have to do to keep them out of our system.”
Atkinson said the district has an eight-step plan ready to be executed when needed. He did not delve into the details of the plan.
Although the Eurasian mollusks have the potential to be problematic, Van Zee said they also could just be a nuisance.
He said the zebra mussel, which is present year-round, is predominately spread via boat traffic. If a boater is in a waterway where the mussels are known to be prevalent, the boat should be washed off thoroughly and left to dry for several days before entering another waterway.
Once a reservoir becomes infested, Van Zee said, there is no way to remove the mussels without killing everything else as well.
One zebra mussel can produce 30,000 to a million offspring annually, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife website.
Van Zee said the mollusks have a bimodal spawning period — in the fall and spring. Some can be microscopic and others can grow to be about an inch long.
He said the zebra mussels will not pose any threat to human safety and the larvae cannot make it through the water treatment process.
Killeen spokeswoman Hilary Shine said the city “trusts that Texas Parks and Wildlife and WCID-1 are working to ensure that our region’s water supply is not affected.”