TEMPLE — Boaters across Texas may be required to drain their watercrafts to help fight the spread of invasive zebra mussels, depending on a vote today by state officials.
Commissioners for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department are considering a proposal to expand the drain and dry requirements across the state, department spokesman Ken Lightfoot said.
If the commission votes to expand the draining requirements across the state, they won’t take effect immediately, Lightfoot said. “The soonest that they can be implemented is after the next commission meeting in May. ... We’ll have a public comment period before that meeting.”
The vote is just the latest move in Texas’ fight against zebra mussels.
In January, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission voted to expand the rules requiring all boats operating on public water to be drained after use to 30 counties throughout North and Central Texas. The requirements t went into effect March 24. The move was aimed at protecting the Trinity, Brazos, Colorado and Guadalupe river basins, all of which are traversed by Interstate 35.
It is a Class C misdemeanor statewide to possess or transport zebra mussels, which were first confirmed in Texas in Lake Texoma in 2009.
The invasive creatures can clog pipes and damage boat motors, and have spread quickly since first being discovered.
Late last year, the mussels were found in Belton Lake — 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.
Based on the size of the mussels, Texas Parks and Wildlife biologists surmised they were introduced into the lake in 2012. In a January interview, Ronnie Bruggman of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and lake manager for Belton Lake and Stillhouse Hollow Lake, said the mussels have colonized seven different locations throughout Belton Lake.
Because the mussels have no natural predators, their colonies build up and over time that buildup can put stress on submerged metal and concrete surfaces, Bruggman said.
Ken Kurzawski, a Texas Parks and Wildlife spokesman who specializes in zebra mussel issues, said the regulations implemented on Sunday had been tweaked after meeting with representatives from Texas’ angler community.
“We carved out an exemption for fishing tournament participants,” Kurzawski said. The rules were modified based on public comment to allow anglers participating in a fishing tournament confined to one body of water to transport live fish in water from that body to an identified weigh-in location, provided all water is drained and properly disposed of before leaving that location.
Anglers will be required to possess documentation provided by tournament organizers that would identify them as participants in the tournament, Kurzawski said.
Movement from one access point to another on the same lake during the same day does not require draining.
“There were a lot of fishing guides who wanted to be able to trailer their boats from one spot to another without having to drain, dry and clean,” Kurzawski said.
The rules also make exceptions for governmental activities and emergencies, and marine sanitary systems are not covered by the regulations.
Not all Texas lakes have the proper conditions to allow for a sustaining population. Lakes with low calcium levels, for example, don’t support the mollusk.
There are no large-scale environmentally safe methods for eradicating the mussels. Wildlife officials want to protect other lakes by requiring people to drain, clean and dry their boats after they have been in colonized waters.
The mussels — whose larvae are invisible to the naked eye — can expand their range by hitching rides on boats and trailers.
Texas Parks and Wildlife spokesman Larry Hodge said that legally all the department can do is require boaters in affected areas to drain their boats after leaving contaminated waterways such as Belton Lake.
Bruggman added that game wardens are expected to be out enforcing the regulations.
“They’re going to be doing stings and checking boat ramps,” Bruggman said. “They want to make sure everyone cleans, drains and dries their boats.”