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New Tools, Survey Help in 'Clean.Drain.Dry' Fight Against Aquatic Invasive Species

Here's how you can help fight the spread of invasives like zebra mussels.

New Tools, Survey Help in 'Clean.Drain.Dry' Fight Against Aquatic Invasive Species
Inspect these areas on your boat and trailer after coming off the water. (cleandraindry.org screenshot)

When a story hits the news cycles about the Clean.Drain.Dry national campaign against aquatic invasive species, it’s easy to think that might apply elsewhere, but not to you.

Because things like where to find a local boat inspection facility through a unique Clean.Drain.Dry mapping tool or through the chance to help out and win a prize package after participating in a Traveling Boater Behavior Survey, could seem rather…well, mundane if such a topic is thought to be happening only in some other faraway place.

And with strange, exotic names like zebra mussels, and a host of other relatively unheralded species like quagga mussels in freshwater, invasive aquatic plants like giant salvinia, and marine invasives like lionfish, many might shrug their shoulders, think I’ve never heard of this unwanted hitchhiker, and decide that it’s someone else’s problem a long ways away.

Until, that is, you find yourself living at literal ground zero and discover that this is a problem in your very own backyard.

The Problem With Zebras

If I’m honest here, I probably never really believed that such words would describe my hometown and my nearby home water, but that's exactly what has happened at the 89,000-acre Lake Texoma I live near, the Texas/Oklahoma border reservoir that lies only five miles outside my back door.

It all started on April 3, 2009 when a friend of mine named Brent Taylor reported a disturbing find to another friend of mine, retired Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Inland Fisheries biologist Bruce Hysmith, that he had a disturbing find on a boathouse communication line under the water's surface. 

And what exactly was that disturbing find? A suspected zebra mussel, a discovery that was soon confirmed by TPWD personnel. While there were no other zebra mussels discovered at that time, it marked an ominous moment for Texoma and many other waterbodies nearby.

While Texoma had apparently dodged the bullet three previous times when zebra mussels were discovered on boats brought from Wisconsin (two different times) and the Ohio River region (once)—and before those boats were ever launched into Texoma—that good luck on interceptions didn't last forever. 

What’s all the fuss about? Well, as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers explains, zebra mussels are small, thumbnail-size, d-shaped mussels that have a zebra-like pattern of stripes. Native to the Caspian Sea region of Asia, the unwanted aquatic hitchhikers were introduced into the Great Lakes most likely through ballast water from ocean-going vessels arriving in the U.S. in the mid 1980s. That region is where the first discovery of zebra mussels was made by authorities, occurring in Lake St. Clair in 1988.

On the Move

Spreading throughout the Great Lakes and down the Mississippi River basin, zebra mussels can spread prolifically, with the Corps of Engineers noting that there have been reports of 75,000 per square foot in extreme infestations. Because of those sheer numbers, and the zebra mussel's ability to attach itself to solid objects, water intake pipes, water control structures, boat hulls, propellers, trailers, submerged rocks, vegetation, marina docks and cables, and even other aquatic species, such infestations, is indeed problematic.

Even more worrisome is the ecological toll that zebra mussels can bring. According to biologists, these invasive mussels feed by filtering water and removing nutrients  that are vital to the growth and survival of other aquatic organisms.

With the knowledge of how prolific they are, also note that according to a Copper Development Association news release, zebra mussels can live four to five years; inhabit freshwater depths of six to 24-feet; have females that can produce 30,000 to 1 million eggs annually; can attach to slow-moving species like turtles and crawfish; and can even colonize on native clam shells and mussels to the point that there could be 10,000 attached to them and the native critter is unable to open its own shell and feed.

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It might also be worth noting that thus far at Texoma, more than a decade after the invasive zebra mussels were first discovered there, that the world-class striped bass fishery at Texoma and the fishing for smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, crappie and catfish, not to mention the abundant threadfin shad forage base that supports those gamefish species, remains robust. Even so, there's no guarantee that it will remain that way indefinitely.

And that's not to say the lake has been unaffected, because within a few years, there were gazillions of these sharp-edged filter feeders attached to rocks in shallow water, unwanted little critters that had nasty edges capable of cutting the feet, knees, elbows and skin of those swimming and playing on Texoma’s vast and beautiful shoreline. And because of their filter-feeding capabilities, the lake became aquarium clear in its eastern most reaches.

Unfortunately, the problems that were newfound on Texoma in 2009 were on the move since zebra mussels were soon found in the West Fork Sister Grove Creek region of Lake Lavon. That told authorities that the problems were bigger than imagined and spreading since Lavon, a reservoir about an hour south of Texoma—and on the southern end of a North Texas Municipal Water District water pipeline that delivered Texoma water to the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex—had no known instances of infected boats making it into its water.

All of this forced NTMWD to take expensive action quickly in the name of public safety and stopping the spread of the invasive mussels. Since NTMWD's water pump station was actually on the Oklahoma side of the two-state reservoir, that meant initially shutting down water transport across state lines, which could have been a violation of federal law which prohibits the transporting of invasive species across state lines.

The next move was even more costly according to a NTMWD news release, since the remedy for the unfortunate zebra mussel discoveries proved to be an expensive and time consuming construction project for a 46-mile long, $400 million dollar pipeline from Texoma to the Wylie Water Treatment Plant on the northeastern side of the DFW Metroplex. Even after it was complete, water delivered to the treatment plant had to be treated before it could be allowed to mix with water supplies from elsewhere.

But even then, the zebra mussel saga that began at Lake Texoma was far from over, since the pesky little invasive critters have steadily marched throughout the vast Lone Star State in the 15 years that have transpired since then. 

As of March 2024, a total of four lakes in Grayson County now have infestations of zebra mussels according to TPWD, water bodies big and small that include Texoma on the county’s northern boundary, nearby Lake Randell (Denison's moderate sized water supply lake), Dean Gilbert Lake (a small community fishing lake in nearby Sherman), and Lake Ray Roberts (site of the 2021 and 2025 Bassmaster Classic derbies, and a large three-county reservoir that edges into Grayson County's southwestern corner).

All told, TPWD says that a total of 32 lakes in Texas, from Amistad on the Texas/Mexico border to Texoma on the Texas/Oklahoma border, and a whole lot of aquatic territory in between, are now classified as fully infested with zebra mussels, a designation that means the water body has an established and reproducing population.

With zebra mussels now found in seven of the state's river basins—the Red, Trinity, Brazos, Colorado, Guadalupe, San Antonio, and Rio Grande river basins—and positive detections of the mussels or their larvae in other lakes, what began as a single zebra mussel discovery at Lake Texoma in 2009 has now become a problem statewide.

Texas, of course, is far from the only state in the U.S. that has ongoing problems with zebra mussels since the invasive species has made itself at home in numerous places throughout the Great Lakes, the Midwest, the South and Southern Great Plains and westward all the way to California. And just recently, authorities in Montana intercepted a boat from another state that had the unwanted critters aboard.

More than Zebras

And as noted at the outset of this story, zebra mussels are only one problematic aquatic invasive species that outdoors enthusiasts, fisheries biologists, water supply managers, and more are dealing with across the country. These critters can wreak havoc, are expensive to control, and the problems they cause won’t go away anytime soon.

And all of that is exactly why boaters, anglers, and hunters everywhere should do their part to be good stewards of our natural resources, complying with state laws and using the Clean.Drain.Dry. principles to help fight this AIS problem everywhere it exists and doing all that can be done to keep such problems from spreading.

How can you help stop the spread of invasive species, while protecting lakes, rivers, streams, and even waterfowl habitat? You can help do so by adhering to the Clean.Drain.Dry. principles each time you visit a waterway or water body. 

  • First, clean off plants, animals and mud from your boats, fishing equipment, and hunting gear. That includes a waterfowl hunter's waders, an angler's wet footwear, ropes and anchors, bait containers and nets, downrigger cables, fishing line, and even lures. 
  • Next, drain water from your boat, kayak, canoe, or personal watercraft. That includes outboard motors, trolling motors, bilge pumps, bladder tanks, a livewell, bait containers and tanks, and doing so before leaving the water's access point. 
  • Finally wipe everything down and dry it all for five days or more, unless local and state laws require otherwise. Do this when moving between waters so as to kill small species not easily discovered. If there is unwanted bait, fish parts, or other materials that have come in contact with the water, dispose of it in the trash and do not dump it on land or back into the water.

And as noted by other organizations working to stop the spread, there are other steps that outdoors enthusiasts can take, including the use of non-felted wading boot soles for fly anglers wading in a trout stream, the washing and drying of waders used by a duck hunter, and even draining water from scuba tank regulators, cylinder boots, and other dive gear.

Report What You See

And last but not least, if you think you've discovered a new invasive sighting, report it to state or local authorities, or use the U.S. Geological Survey Sighting Report Form along with taking a photo and noting the time, the date, and a location.

Knowing that there are several national efforts aimed at stopping the spread of such invasive species, and many states like Texas have their own programs in place as well, all of this might seem a little overblown, confusing, and even unnecessary to some that have never encountered an Aquatic Invasive Species. 

But it certainly isn’t, and that’s especially true when you find yourself living at ground zero. Take it from someone who has seen this unfortunate truth unfold a few miles away and do all you can to keep that from happening in your backyard.




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