AUSTIN (KXAN) — People with eyes on Austin’s popular Lady Bird Lake say they’re seeing more invasive zebra mussels than they ever expected to.

The Colorado River Alliance, a conservation group focused on preserving the health of the river, has heard stories of zebra mussels causing headaches for the people who use this waterway in the heart of Austin. In August, CRA heard from a boat rental company called Rowing Dock  that they’d pulled up buoy lines on Lady Bird Lake  covered with zebra mussels. 

Capital Cruises, a party boat company on Lady Bird Lake, is also seeing mussels on its boats and ropes. Party boat operator Ryan Wiessman explained they’d never noticed them prior to this year. 

Now, the mussels are impossible to ignore, because the Capital Cruise staff has to clean them out from the filters each day. 

“If we don’t clean off the zebra mussels, it just clogs the air filters and our AC goes very hot,” Wiessman explained.  

These mussels reproduce quickly, harm water quality, clog up pipes,  hurt native wildlife, and have caused concern in many Texas waterways in recent years.

Zebra mussels were first found in the state in 2009. Then in 2017, they were first found in Lake Travis, which was the first time they were found in the Colorado River Basin. 

Since then, enough of the mussels have been found that Texas Parks and Wildlife declared Lake Austin and Lake Travis “infested.” While TWPD has located zebra mussels in Lady Bird Lake before, the lake hasn’t received an “infested” designation yet.

CRA believes that could change if these mollusks continue to spread, so they are making a plea to the public to prevent them from winding up in other bodies of water. 

“Everything that comes out of the water, whether it’s a boat or water shoes, needs to be cleaned, drained and dried before it moves from one body of water to another,” explained Brent Lyles, executive director of the Colorado River Alliance.  

For those out on Lady Bird Lake, Lyles explained this means non-motorized boats like paddle boards and kayaks need to be cleaned off as well before they’re brought to another body of water. 

Texas public agencies recommend cleaning your boat, trailer and gear by removing all plants, animals or debris. It also means draining all the water from your boat and possessions before leaving the lake. Finally, public agencies recommend drying the boat or trailer for a week or more before entering another body of water (or if that isn’t possible, wash the boat with a high pressure washer with hot, soapy water). 

Lyles said that the tiny zebra mussel “babies” float in the water and can be carried by just about anything to another waterway if people aren’t careful. 

“Zebra mussels can hitch a ride on a boat, a wet rope on a boat, they can hitch a ride in a wet bathing suit or wet water shoes,” he explained. 

Lyles added that when zebra mussels do spread to new places, they can cost thousands of dollars in property damage by clogging up pipes, filters and boats. Ordinarily, mussels native to central Texas work as “livers of the river,” filtering out things in the water. But these zebra mussels could push the local mollusks out. All these factors could impact the quality of central Texas drinking water, Lyles said. 

“Not many people realize that all of Austin’s drinking water comes from the Colorado River. Zebra mussels impacting the river could impact our drinking water,” he said. 

He added that the city of Austin is actively monitoring it’s water pipes in Lady Bird Lake for these invasive mollusks. 

In Texas, possession or transportation of zebra mussels is a Class C misdemeanor for first-time offenders with a fine of up to $500. For people who’ve done it more than once, the offense can be elevated to a Class B misdemeanor. Repeat offenders can wind up with fine of as much as $2,000, up to 180 days jail time or both.