A lifetime problem: more zebra mussels have been found in Lake Brownwood

Steve Nash
Brownwood Bulletin
Two zebra mussels are visible at the bottom of a plastic bottle displayed at the Brown County Water Improvement District Board of Directors meeting Tuesday.

Addressing the Brown County Water Improvement District Board of Directors, John Allen displayed a plastic bottle with a small amount of water and two inch-long mollusks, easily visible at the bottom.

“There are the little critters,” Allen, the water district’s general manager, told directors  Tuesday afternoon.

The “little critters” were among the five zebra mussels that had been found in Lake Brownwood as of Tuesday — two on a boat pontoon, two on a plastic pipe under a Goat Island dock, and one on a buoy.

“They are there,” Allen said of the invasive mussels. “It’s to a point now, we’ll be finding more on a daily basis.”

There was no action for directors to take after hearing Allen’s report. The water improvement district’s engineering firm, Freese and Nichols of Abilene, is doing pre-design work to determine how to protect Lake Brownwood’s infrastructure its pipes and pumps, Allen said.

“They’re our engineers who have basically designed our whole system,” Allen said. “They know our system really well. They’re just looking to see what it’s going to take."

Allen said there is “no known cure for zebra mussels. The only thing we can do is protect the infrastructure, keep them from clogging the intakes and the pumps, and that’s what we’re working to accomplish at this point. It will be a very expensive process before we’re done.”  

Though small — growing up to about 1.5 inch — zebra mussels can cause damage to boats and  water supply infrastructure, the Texas Parks and Wildlife said. Zebra mussels compete with filter feeders, and their razor-sharp shells can litter shorelines and cover underwater hard surfaces, creating a hazard for people, the agency said.

In April, parks and wildlife said its Inland Fisheries Division had detected zebra mussel larvae in Lake Brownwood. A pontoon boat owner found two juvenile mussels on a pontoon earlier this month.

“It is a major deal and it is an expense we’ll have the rest of our lives,” Allen said. “It’s not going away.”

Allen told directors he’d been contacted by a company offering to sell a “miracle cure” for zebra mussels. Allen said when he started asking questions, the company acknowledged their proposed solution was “all in theory at this point. They’ve never tried it on a lake.”

Allen said Freeze and Nichols referred to the company’s proposal as a “buyer beware” situation and “not anything (Freese and Nichols) would ever recommend.”

Inland Fisheries representatives were back in the area earlier this week, Allen said.

“Their take on it is, once you have them, you have them,” he said. “There’s nothing you can do about it. You just need to protect your infrastructure.”

Anyone who finds zebra mussels in Lake Brownwood is asked to notify the water district.

Zebra mussels typically have a dark-and-white pattern on their shells, but may be a combination of colors from off-white to dark brown, according to www.usgs.gov.

The mollusks are native to the the seas of Eastern Europe and were first discovered in the Great Lakes in the 1988. It is believed the mussels arrived in the ballast water of ocean-going ships.

Zebra mussels were first found in Texas waters in Lake Texoma, Allen said, adding it’s likely they entered Lake Brownwood on a boat that had been on another body of water.