Many people will be flocking to local lakes this Memorial Day weekend to enjoy the holiday, but Texas Parks and Wildlife officials want to make sure boaters and anglers are taking extra measures to protect the lakes. On Thursday, officials expanded a mandate that boaters on lakes and rivers must drain their watercrafts to combat the spread of zebra mussels.
Wildlife officials say the threat is a concern especially in Waco, where the lake is a main water source.
Lake Belton already is one of six texas lakes infected with zebra mussels. Wildlife officials say they don't want the mollusk to spread to other Texas lakes because of the damage it could cause. Zebra mussels are known for sticking to hard surfaces in the water, whether that is a boat or rock. They are known for multiplying rapidly and could clog public water intake pipes and cause damage to boat motors.
While regulations won't go into effect until July 1, wildlife officials say there is no reason to wait.
"We would love for boaters and anglers just to go ahead and get in the practice of clean, drain, and dry now. Might as well start getting use to it now, and they don't have to worry about it come July 1st," Brian Van Zee, Texas Parks and Wildlife regional director, said.
While wildlife officials say boats should be thoroughly inspected and cleaned, they also say anything that gets exposed to the water should be cleaned and dried as well. That could be anything, from bait buckets to ropes to even clothing. It is an issue officials didn't think would be a problem in Texas, until now.
"We thought early on that we would be safe because of our high water temperatures and because of our unique environment that we have here that it wouldn't spread to Texas...but we were wrong," Dr. David Britton of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service said.
Wildlife officials say that Lake Belton isn't completely covered with zebra mussels just yet, but some rocks along the lake floor have multiple mussels growing on it already.
"Once they have become established in a lake there is no getting rid of them. There is no known cure or technique to completely eradicate them from a reservoir," Van Zee said.
Parks and wildlife officials say the best way to prevent the mussels from spreading is by developing good cleaning habits now, so boaters don't help move the mussel from lake to lake.
"Open the compartments and let them drain, let them dry as much as you can before you take it out again," Fisheries biologist Michael Baird said.
The mussels are known to be microscopic at its earliest stages, so anyone who carries water out of any Texas lake and into another one will be ticketed and expect a fine up to $500. It's part of the state's effort to keep the lakes and rivers clean and avoid any future disasters.
"Everybody is going to have to drink water. We are all paying our water bills. And those water bills are going to be reflecting the increases in maintenance and operational costs that zebra mussels can be causing," Van Zee said.
Wildlife officials tell say if the zebra mussels were to find their way into Lake Waco it could cost the city more than a million dollars in maintenance costs. That is why right now they are more cautious than ever.