BROWNWOOD, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – Lakes Fort Phantom and Proctor in Coleman County are now being monitored after invasive zebra mussels have been found in Lakes Brownwood and O.H. Ivie.

Imagine a creature as big as, or smaller than, the bottlecap on a water bottle. Now imagine that tiny creature completely destroying an underwater ecosystem. That is what zebra mussels do, and unfortunately for 28 lakes across the State of Texas, they have been hit hard with large zebra mussel populations.

Zebra mussels spread by attaching themselves to the bottom of a boat in an infected lake If not properly cleaned and drained of all water, they make their ways to other bodies of water. As of a year-and-a-half ago, both Lakes Brownwood and O.H. Ivie were fully infected.

It can be difficult to picture a creature so small causing so much harm to lakes. But while zebra mussels do filter out most of the nasty algae in a body of water, that takes away from the other animal species dwelling underneath the water.

It was three years ago when Brownwood native and scuba diver, Daniel Prickett, first noticed the creatures while diving.

“We found a few on sunglasses and a gas cap to a boat,” Prickett said while he was looking for somebody’s sunglasses in Lake Brownwood. “[I also] found a few about the size of a rollie pollie.” Prickett said.

On the weekends, Prickett and his family can usually be found scuba diving in Lake Brownwood, helping fix water pumps that float in the lake. However, once he noticed the miniscule mollusks, he began conducting his own research on the animal.

Prickett would collect the species and take them home. He quickly discovered that these animals reproduce at an extremely high rate, and are difficult to eradicate from any one area.

Over the past several years, Prickett said he’s seen the population not only grow, but spread, through the entirety of the recreational Lake Brownwood.

“Now, you can throw some stuff in the water on a rope and bring them up a few days later,” Prickett said.

In his research, Prickett told KTAB/KRBC that he found the zebra mussels stick to any new body that falls into the water. He said he has found them attached to plastic chairs, phone cases and anything you would not expect to be in the water- including the bottom of metal piping and docks.

However, Prickett said not many are aware of the dramatic affects these creatures can have on a body of water.

“If we’re not careful with them,” Prickett began, “they’re going to be everywhere, if they’re not already.”

What makes these animals such a pest are their resiliency to changing climates, overpopulation and the potential to harm water-use facilities.

Michael Homer with Texas Parks and Wildlife’s (TPWD) Inland Fisheries Department, oversees the Abilene and Brownwood lakes. He explained that when zebra mussels get into the lake, the problems begin with the co-existing wildlife.

“They have the ability to filter out a lot of the algae and zooplankton that are important food sources for a variety of different food sources, including fish,” Homer said.

They create a large dent in the underwater ecosystem rapidly.

One full-grown female zebra mussel can produce up to a million offspring in a single year. Once the mussels get overpopulated, they begin to stack on top of each other, creating problems for outboard motors, water intakes and other water facilities attached to the lake.

For the City of Brownwood, that creates a significant concern for their water treatment facility, which is connected to the lake by a nine-mile long pipeline. That pipeline leads to their water treatment facility, which is in charge of filtering and distributing clean water throughout the city.

With a continually growing zebra mussel population, concerns have risen. Officials say they are concerned about the mussels making their ways up through the pipeline and into the drinking water- either clogging the pipeline or dying inside, causing a foul odor in the drinking water.

Member on the board of the Brownwood Water Improvement District, Johnny Hays, said the city has been working diligently on preventive measures to keep zebra mussels out of the water treatment facility.

“Once you get a problem, it’s manual labor out there; scraping them off every hard surface you can find. It’s pulling pumps out that will have to be cleaned,” Hays listed. “I don’t know how they even clean a pump, besides taking it apart and scraping all the mussels off. That would cost a lot of time and a lot of labor to do that.” 

In order to prevent any added costs for pipeline repairs, the city, water treatment plant and TPWD Inland Fisheries have been working together to develop a new facility to sit near the mouth of the pipeline at Lake Brownwood.

Hays said they would use this $1.3 million facility to pump a safe, approved copper sulfate solution into Lake Brownwood to prevent the mussels from sticking to the pipeline. Hays said it would cost roughly $20,000 a month to get and apply needed chemicals.

“By doing so, it also gives us quite a bit of time if we did have a lot of mussels come down and get into the treatment plant itself,” Hays said.

Brownwood’s Water Improvement District discovered adult zebra mussels along the raw line into town at individual filter screens, according to Hays.

The use of copper to deter zebra mussels was also part of Prickett’s research, looking for a way to help deter them off of boats and pumps. He said he would use a mixture of copper and copper mesh to cover the pumps, which he said would keep the mussels off for several weeks until they could replace it with fresh copper mesh.

Prickett said it was the best solution to deter them for now- an extremely costly preventative. He also said he believes there may be ‘no way’ to eradicate the species entirely.

Since zebra mussels moved into the Lone Star State, there has been one confirmed case where they have been completely eradicated from a lake, that being Lake Waco in January of 2021, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife.

TPWD posted signage around infected lakes, including Lake Brownwood, asking boaters to follow the ‘Clean, Drain, Dry’ method when exiting the lake.

When boaters exit the lake, and before leaving the ramp, they should clean:

  • The entire boat
  • Trailer
  • Boating gear

Drain/ remove:

  • All water from;
    • Live wells
    • Buckets
    • Other compartments
  • Plants
  • mud
  • debris

If you don’t plan on taking your boat to a non-infected body of water, they suggest letting your boat dry, uncovered, for a week or more. If you do plan on going to a non-infected lake soon after, they ask you power wash your boat with a hot (104-140 degrees), soapy water before putting your boat back into a new lake.

Zebra mussel larvae can live on the surface of your boat for up to four weeks.

Click here to learn more about zebra mussels and how to prevent them from spreading.