Flexing the new muscle given to it by the Legislature last session, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission enacted sweeping new rules Thursday to halt the seemingly inexorable takeover of Texas lakes by zebra mussels.
Since the Eurasian bivalves incursion into Lake Texoma in 2009, they've spread steadily southward, to lakes Ray Roberts, Lewisville, Lavon and, most recently, Lake Belton, just an hour north of Austin. They've moved into the Trinity River below Ray Roberts, and the Red River, below Texoma. All five of the Great Lakes belong to the zebra mussels, as do the Mississippi, Tennessee and Ohio River Basins.
The new rules apply to 17 North Texas counties, including Dallas and Tarrant, dictating stringent practices surrounding the transport of fish, bait and water. Anglers must drain bilges, motors, live wells -- anything containing water -- before and after they launch into lakes in any of these counties. Live bait can be used only in the water where it was caught.
The precautions are necessary because the hitchhiking zebra mussels are often transported from one lake to another in the microscopic form of larvae, called veligers. Once established, they colonize and clog water intake valves, damage boat hulls and disrupt ecosystems.
Their arrival in Lake Belton has apparently alarmed the commission enough that it is considering adding 28 North and Central Texas counties to the boat-draining mandate, as far south as Travis and Comal counties. Click here for the full list. The mandate, according to TPWD, will kick in either this December or January.