Invasive zebra mussels found in Brownwood Lake, Abilene Lakes monitored
BROWNWOOD, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – Fort Phantom and Proctor lakes in Coleman County are currently being monitored following the discovery of invasive zebra mussels in Brownwood and OH Ivie lakes.
Imagine a creature as big or smaller than the cap of a water bottle. Now imagine this little creature completely destroying an underwater ecosystem. That’s what zebra mussels do, and unfortunately for 28 lakes across the state of Texas, they’ve been hit hard by large zebra mussel populations.
Zebra mussels spread by attaching themselves to the bottom of a boat in an infected lake. If they are not properly cleaned and drained of all water, they move to other bodies of water. A year and a half ago, Brownwood and OH Ivie lakes were fully infected.
It can be hard to imagine such a small creature doing so much damage to lakes. But while zebra mussels filter out most of the nasty algae in a body of water, it takes out other animal species living underwater.
Three years ago, Daniel Prickett, a native of Brownwood and scuba diver, first noticed the creatures while diving.
“We found a few on sunglasses and a gas cap on a boat,” Prickett said as he searched for someone’s sunglasses in Lake Brownwood. “[I also] I found a few the size of a rollie pollie. Pricket said.
On weekends, Prickett and his family can usually be found scuba diving in Brownwood Lake, helping to repair water pumps that float in the lake. However, once he noticed the tiny molluscs, he began to conduct his own research on the animal.
Prickett would collect the cash and bring it home. He quickly discovered that these animals reproduced at an extremely high rate and that it was difficult to eradicate them from any area.
In recent years, Prickett said he has seen the population not only grow, but expand across the entirety of Brownwood Recreational Lake.
“Now you can throw stuff in the water on a rope and pull it up a few days later,” Prickett said.
In his research, Prickett told KTAB/KRBC he found that zebra mussels stick to any new bodies that fall into the water. He said he found them attached to plastic chairs, phone cases and anything else you wouldn’t expect to find in the water, including the bottoms of metal pipes and docks.
However, Prickett said few people are aware of the dramatic effects these creatures can have on a body of water.
“If we don’t watch out for them,” Prickett began, “they’re going to be everywhere, if they aren’t already.”
What makes these animals such a pest is their resistance to climate change, overpopulation, and the potential to harm water use facilities.
Michael Homer with Texas Parks and Wildlife’s (TPWD) Inland Fisheries Department, oversees Abilene and Brownwood lakes. He explained that when zebra mussels enter the lake, the problems start with the coexisting wildlife.
“They have the ability to filter out a lot of algae and zooplankton that are important food sources for a variety of different food sources, including fish,” Homer said.
They quickly create a large breach in the underwater ecosystem.
An adult female zebra mussel can produce up to one million young in a single year. Once the mussels are overcrowded, they begin to pile on top of each other, creating problems for outboard motors, water intakes, and other water features connected to the lake.
For the town of Brownwood, this creates a significant concern for their water treatment facility, which is connected to the lake by a nine-mile-long pipeline. This pipeline leads to their water treatment facility, which is responsible for filtering and distributing clean water throughout the city.
With an ever-increasing zebra mussel population, concerns have grown. Officials say they are concerned that the mussels are backing up the pipeline and ending up in drinking water, either clogging the pipeline or dying inside, causing a foul odor in drinking water.
Member of the Board of Directors of Brownwood Water Improvement DistrictJohnny Hays said the city is working diligently on preventative measures to keep zebra mussels out of the water treatment facility.
“Once you have a problem, it’s manual labor there; scrape them off any hard surfaces you can find. It’s about removing pumps that will need to be cleaned,” Hays said. “I don’t even know how they clean a pump other than taking it apart and scraping out all the mussels. It would cost a lot of time and a lot of manpower to do it.
To avoid any additional costs for pipeline repairs, the city, water treatment plant and TPWD Inland Fisheries worked together to develop a new facility near the mouth of the pipeline at Brownwood Lake.
Hays said they would use the $1.3 million facility to pump a safe, approved copper sulfate solution into Brownwood Lake to prevent mussels from sticking to the pipeline. Hays said it would cost about $20,000 per month to obtain and apply the necessary chemicals.
“Doing this also gives us some time if a lot of mussels were coming down and entering the processing plant itself,” Hays said.
According to Hays, the Brownwood Water Improvement District found adult zebra mussels along the rough line leading into town on individual filter screens.
Using copper to deter zebra mussels was also part of Prickett’s research, looking for a way to deter them from boats and pumps. He said he would use a mixture of copper and copper mesh to cover the pumps, which he said would keep mold out for several weeks until they could replace it with fresh copper mesh.
Prickett said that was the best way to deter them for now – extremely expensive prevention. He also said he believed there was “no way” to completely eradicate the species.
Since zebra mussels took hold in the Lone Star State, there has been one confirmed case where they were completely eradicated from a lake, namely Lake Waco in January 2021, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife.
TPWD has posted signs around infected lakes, including Brownwood Lake, asking boaters to follow the “Clean, Drain, Dry” method when exiting the lake.
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Upon exiting the lake, and before leaving the ramp, boaters must clean:
- The whole boat
- Nautical equipment
- All the water from;
- Live wells
- Other compartments
If you don’t plan on taking your boat to an uninfected body of water, they suggest letting your boat dry out, uncovered, for a week or more. If you plan to go to an uninfected lake soon after, they ask you to wash your boat in warm (104-140 degrees) soapy water before putting your boat back in a new lake.
Zebra mussel larvae can live for up to four weeks on the surface of your boat.
Click here to learn more about zebra mussels and how to prevent them from spreading.