GLEN ROSE - In 2008, construction of the Wheeler Branch Reservoir, a project funded 100 percent by county tax dollars, was completed. The Somervell County Water District (SCWD) then opened the Wheeler Branch Reservoir Park in August of 2010 to provide a local fishing and recreational getaway for residents and visitors alike.

However, an unforeseen problem arose during the interim years - Zebra Mussels.

No, these are not the stripped stallions seen grazing the vast openness of Fossil Rim Wildlife Center. According to Texas Park and Wildlife, these invasive water pests “often lack natural enemies or competitors in their new environment, and may multiply and spread at an alarming rate, interfering with boat traffic, affecting water quality, and causing a range of other problems.”

According to TPW, the mussels – found for the first time in the state in 2009 at Lake Texoma – are easily transported through bilges, livewells and any plants that have become attached to a boat or trailer.

Because of this and, according to Kevin Taylor, general manager of the Somervell County Water District, the SCWD Board of Directors voted Monday, June 13 to restrict its waters.

“The SCWD Board of Directors has determined this to be too high of a risk to the reservoir for the relatively few amount of bass boats that use the reservoir,” Taylor said. “Bass boats that contain bilges and live wells present the highest risk for transporting water from one reservoir to another. Since the District has only one monitored boat ramp we have an option that is not available to most reservoirs with multiple free public ramps.”

The new policy, which will go into effect Monday, June 20, will only permit canoes, kayaks and open hull john boats without bilges, live wells or raised floors that may conceal water onto the reservoir's waters.

“Trolling motors will be allowed, but no boats with gas powered motors will be allowed at the reservoir,” Taylor added.

“Recently zebra mussels have been found south of Somervell County in Lake Belton and Lake Waco, and DNA has been found in Lake Granbury and Lake Whitney,” Taylor explained. “The past six years SCWD has actively tried to promote awareness to the seriousness of the zebra mussel threat to the Wheeler Branch Reservoir. The District has distributed fliers to fisherman, posted signs at the boat ramp and park gate, spot checked boats and verbally informed boaters of the existing laws requiring all boats entering the reservoir to be clean and dry prior to entering the park.

“Despite all the District’s and local law enforcement officials efforts to enforce the laws regarding transporting water from one lake to another, recent boat surveys have found that over one third of all boats with bilges and live wells continue to attempt to bring outside water into the Wheeler Branch Reservoir within their bilges or live wells. It will only take one boat from one of the seven infested reservoirs in Texas to infest Wheeler Branch Reservoir with zebra mussels.”

Taylor noted that the SCWD estimates that an infestation of zebra mussels could run the district up to $250,000 annually to control the nuisances at the waterworks and treatment plant facilities.

“This amount represents over 15% of the District’s annual operating budget and would have to be accounted for through either higher SCWD taxes, loss of existing services or higher water rates for Somervell County residents,” Taylor said.

As part of its “Clean, Drain, Dry” program, TPW has put together three simple steps to help curb the spread of zebra mussels.

Clean

Remove all plants, animals, and mud and thoroughly wash the boat and trailer. A quick trip to the car wash to use high-pressure spray nozzles can help clean crevices and hidden areas. (Remember that boats stored on infested waters may need to be professionally decontaminated.)

Drain

Pull the plug! Drain all water before leaving the area, including livewells, bilges, ballast, and engine cooling water.

Dry

Allow time for your boat to dry completely before launching in other waters.

The entire Wheeler Branch Reservoir Boat policy can be found at the SCWD website at scwd.com. For more information on the TPW “Clean, Drain, Dry” program or laws surrounding Clean Water Certificate program, visit http://tpwd.texas.gov/fishboat/boat/protect_water.

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Travis M. Smith, @travis5mith

(254) 897-2282