Meet the Texas Heelsplitter Mussel, the Costly New Hurdle to the Trinity River Project

HumongousMusselHalff.jpg
Halff Associates
When Ron Kirk began pitching the Trinity River Project in the late 1990s, no one was thinking about the Texas heelsplitter or the Texas pigtoe, or the Mexican fawnsfoot, the smooth pimpleback, or the Texas fatmucket. There was no real reason to. Back then, the species were sufficiently abundant that they didn't merit state or federal protection.

That changed in 2010, when the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department listed those and 10 other freshwater mussels species as threatened. The mussels are an important part of aquatic ecosystems, the department explained, providing food to a variety of insects and animals. Habitat loss, excessive harvesting, and poor water quality all contributed to a decline in their numbers.

More to the point, the move helped forestall a listing by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that would mean stricter rules and higher penalties, neither of which would be good for the Texas economy. Or so the argument goes. The federal agency's decision is still listed as being "under review."

The state listing did carry some penalties, making it a misdemeanor to kill or collect the bivalves. That's an easy enough rule for the average Texan to follow but it gets a bit harder when you're a large business or government aiming to build things -- like, say, a signature bridge -- in or near the state's rivers. Cue costly and time-consuming environmental surveys and, in instances where mussels are discovered, removal efforts.

The elements of the Trinity River Project that have already been built, like the Calatrava and the standing wave, were already completed or far enough along by the time TPWD made its ruling that they escaped the new rules. But now, as the city prepares to move forward with the transformation of the Continental Avenue Bridge into a linear park, the city's must face the Texas heelsplitter and Texas pigtoe, the two threatened species that populate the Trinity.

There's a good chance the Continental project will disturb exactly zero protected bivalves. The heelsplitters at least are concentrated in the northwestern corner of Dallas County, and even there there have been maybe a dozen observations. But the city has to check, which is why the City Council will vote Wednesday on whether to pay Halff Associates $147,512 to "investigate, identify and potentially relocate" the mussels.

That's a drop in the bucket in the grand scheme of the multi-billion-dollar project. But if it's something that comes up whenever the city gets ready to build wetlands or toll roads or other bridges, it can add up. We have an email in to assistant city manager Jill Jordan, who oversees the project, to see if or how this factors into the city's long-term thinking.

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27 comments
Gorgon
Gorgon

We have been doing mussel watches in and along the Trinity at Dallas for several years never saw a Texas Heelsplitter.  The Corps and all the other agencies were suppose to have done surveys of aquatic fauna along with many other aspects in their Environmental Impact Statements in 1998, 1999, 2002, etc. instead of plagiarize lists out of other sources.  Marsha is right this is an Amblema plicata (Three Ridge) in DO photo.  Halff and Associates can probably find a contractor to do the survey but it will be inadequate because the survey should be for a year or two and sample many various aquatic habitats.  Can't really move the mollusks they will repopulate.  Mollusks propagation comes from fish to remove the mollusks would have to move the fish out.  What about the aquatic gastropods?  There are or were 750 species only 25 percent extant today.  Will they include them in their survey?  No?  The laws were in place before the "Wave," Calatrava bridge and any other project built because they are all part of the DF and the DFE.

KevinCummings
KevinCummings

Marsha is correct.  The mussel figured that accompanies your story is not a Texas Heelsplitter, but probably a Washboard (given its size) or a threeridge.  And let me say that whoever contracted 147k for the survey got taken.  There are many qualified individuals and firms that could have done the job for a fraction of that cost.

KevinCummings
KevinCummings

Marsha is correct.  The mussel figured that accompanies your story is not a Texas Heelsplitter, but probably a Washboard (given its size) or a threeridge.  And let me say that whoever contracted 147k for the survey got taken.  There are many qualified individuals and firms that could have done the job for a fraction of that cost.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

The Texas Fatmucket is actually  a member of the Dallas Citizens Council.

marsha12
marsha12

The mussel in the photo is not a Texas Heelsplitter, it looks like a threeridge. Threeridges are not rare mussels. 

Marsha May, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

marsha12
marsha12

The mussel in the photo is not a Texas Heelsplitter, it looks like a threeridge. Threeridges are not rare mussels. 

Marsha May, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

marsha12
marsha12

The mussel in the photo is not a Texas Heelsplitter, it looks like a threeridge. Threeridges are not rare mussels. 

Marsha May, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

WylieH
WylieH

I thought Kay Bailey Hutchison and Eddie Bernice Johnson (working at Mary Suhm's behest) managed to have the Trinity River exempted from most federal environmental protection and historical preservation laws-- was this one they missed?

Lorlee
Lorlee

Anyone but Halff -- for goodness sakes -- they are the ones who thought up this boondoggle and we just keep paying them.  $142,000 seems like a lot of money.  Just think what else that could buy for the City.  For 15 years we have wasted money and political capital on this thing that just won't die.  We need to follow the money to find out who keeps this thing on life support. 

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

Well considering that you can easily see mountain dew and various other soda cans in the Trinity at any time.  These mussels shouldnt be hard to spot.  Mother fucker's big

doublecheese
doublecheese

Seems like mussels would be an easy thing to rapidly breed and release.  Other species are farmed on a large scale.  Why don't we take species like this that are endangered and help repair the population?  These mussels need all the help they can get before the zebra mussels inevitably invade their space.

James080
James080 topcommenter

Damn. I read the first sentence and for a second I thought you were doing an article on my ex-wives.

Storm_71
Storm_71

Wow that's a big mama bear.

Cliffhanger
Cliffhanger

@KevinCummings Exactly. I'd imagine there's a biologist or two at SMU or UNT who could have done the job for a lot less.

casiepierce
casiepierce

@Lorlee No it's not all that much at all, maybe almost the salary of one consultant.

WylieH
WylieH

@Lorlee Over the last year, I've started wondering if the real power behind keeping this thing going is Halff and a handful of other consulting firms, rather than the old money City interests (whose interest might be waning).  Under my revised theory, they would actually prefer that the project NEVER BE BUILT; rather, they just keep studying and studying it to death, generating an annuity type stream of high-margin profits as they keep identifying new obstacles that have to be worked through, and getting paid to do the work.

Daniel
Daniel

@ScottsMerkin  Its size leads me to believe it was exposed to radioactivity of some kind. In a couple more years, it will morph into The Most Bizarre Superhero Ever. 

BenS.
BenS.

@doublecheese 

If you raise and release them back into the river, the water will kill them. Click the link in the article that shows a map of the Trinity and the population of the mussel shells. You'll notice how the mussels hold their own downstream of the Lake Lewisville Dam, then die out. The population picks up again further south, beyond Corsicana where the water quality improves again. It's the water.

The Native Americans who lived in Dallas ate a ton of mussels. Many of the shells found from those old "clam bakes" still lie all over the banks of the river. Quite a few of the species that the Native Americans ate down there are now extinct on the river. Some species are very particular to certain kinds of water, rocks, bank structures and flooding. Remove that environment and you kill off the mussels.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

@Daniel @ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul  

I take it that would be a NO ....


But, COULD they be tasty assuming clean water ...

Daniel
Daniel

@TheCredibleHulk @ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul @Daniel @ScottsMerkin 

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