WACO, TX — A more than year long collaborative effort between city, state and federal government has led to the eradication of the zebra mussel at Lake Waco.
The invasive species, the zebra mussel, reproduces rapidly and can cause catastrophic damage to water supply infrastructure and harm aquatic ecosystems.
However, thanks to the timely response of multiple partners, the zebra mussels have been eradicated from Lake Waco, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
"Waco lake was just determined to be eradicated of zebra mussels," Lake Manager with the Army Corps of Engineers Heath McLane said.
Today's reality was only able to be achieved thanks to the work of officials from Texas Parks and Wildlife, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the City of Waco.
The effort was spurred in response to the discovery of zebra mussels at Lake Waco in 2014.
According to the TPWD, it required multiple partner agencies to install nearly an acre of plastic sheeting over the area the zebra mussels were expected to be located, in order to prevent them from gaining a foothold in the lake.
"The introduction of zebra mussels into Lake Waco presented a unique opportunity for action due to the highly localized nature of the introduction and how quickly the mussels were detected. In October 2014, partner agencies worked together on a rapid response effort to install nearly an acre of plastic sheeting over the shoreline and lake bottom in the affected area and weighted it down with sandbags. This method was used in an attempt to kill the mussels by blocking oxygen, impede their reproduction, and prevent them from becoming established in the lake."
"Three partners coming together is a pretty major undertaking because its city, state and federal government," Heath McLane said.
John Tibbs is a Fisheries Biologist with Texas Parks and Wildlife at the Inland Fisheries Waco District, who assisted in the unique effort to eradicate the mussels.
"We discovered them at a boat ramp in an inspection that the city was doing, which is quite unusual," Tibbs explained. "We investigated for days to pull out all the zebra mussels we could find and then we used our boats to install the tarps."
The plastic tarps were ultimately removed in March of 2015 after five months of being left in place. The decision to place the tarps in the lake was successful in reducing the oxygen the mussels needed to thrive.
"The Lake Waco eradication is a unique success story for Texas – this is one of very few invasive mussel eradication's in the U.S. and, to our knowledge, the first successful use of this method,” said Monica McGarrity, TPWD Senior Scientist for Aquatic Invasive Species Management. “However, it is now more important than ever for boaters to take action to protect the lake, as it could only take one boat or barge to reintroduce these mussels. TPWD will continue to carefully monitor the lake for early detection."
Since 2015, TWPD and the City of Waco have continued to monitor the lake and no mussel larvae, settled adults, or their DNA have been identified in the lake.
A press release from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Inland Fisheries Director Brian Van Zee, credited Tom Conry as a driving force behind the project.
“This was a very substantial undertaking that took a lot of creative thinking and required many staff from the City of Waco, US Army Corps of Engineers and Texas Parks and Wildlife to accomplish, not to mention the heavy equipment, boats and commercial divers,” said Brian Van Zee, TPWD Inland Fisheries Regional Director. “However, it was the late Tom Conry with the City of Waco who deserves credit for being the driving force behind the project."
Nora Schell is the Lake Waco Wetlands Coordinator. She worked with Tom on the on Zebra Mussels projects among many others within the City of Waco.
"He and I worked together for about 14 years," Schell said. "He was also the the prime reason that we raised the lake level at Lake Waco between 2000 and 2003. We did that a few years ago, and that was because we needed to ensure that we're going to have more drinking water. He's really the reason that I even have a job at the Wetlands."
Tom and Nora followed the zebra mussel infestation in the State of Texas from the beginning.
"When the State of Texas first found zebra mussels in any of our water bodies it was at Lake Texoma, so we thought because the zebra mussels, which originate from Russia and the colder waters that we weren't going to have a problem with the warmer water temperatures of the water bodies down south," she explained. "I cannot stress enough of Tom's efforts and knowledge to combat this."
Tom Conry retired in 2017 and unfortunately passed away before he was able to see the success he helped create at Lake Waco. Nora said she wishes he could be here today to see the results the zebra mussel project has had and that he'd be overjoyed with the results.
"He he would be just jumping up and down," she said. "I did let his his wife Sharon know, she moved to Houston and I've been keeping her up with all the progress."
The groundbreaking effort is something that even amid it's success, officials are keen that's it's something they'll have to stay vigilant on.
“Boaters can take three simple steps and help stop the spread of zebra mussels,” said Van Zee. “Clean, drain and dry your boat when leaving any body of water. Zebra mussels can hide in crevices or residual water and so, even if you don’t see them, you could accidentally take them to a new lake. If a boat is stored in the water on a lake with zebra mussels and then taken off the water to be transported to another lake, it will need to be carefully inspected, decontaminated to remove and kill mussels, and then allowed to dry completely. We recommend that the vessel be cleaned by someone who is familiar with all the components of the boat, as all livewells, bilges, motors and any other receptacles or water-intake systems coming into contact with public waters must be cleaned and TPWD will provide specifications for proper decontamination.”
A status map showing all lakes where zebra mussels have been found in Texas is online at tpwd.texas.gov/zebramussels. TPWD and partners monitor for zebra mussels in Texas lakes, but anyone who finds them in lakes where they haven’t been found before should report them by emailing photos and location information to email@example.com to help identify new introductions. Anyone who spots them on boats, trailers or equipment that is being moved should immediately report the sighting to TPWD at (512) 389-4848.