Austin Water works to slow and stop spread of problematic zebra mussels

The city of Austin is taking steps to protect its infrastructure from the spread of zebra mussels.

The city of Austin is taking steps to protect its infrastructure from the spread of zebra mussels.

Image description
Protecting people, animals, trees
Image description
Protecting infrastructure
Image description
Tracking progress

Two months removed from foul-smelling and -tasting tap water being distributed through South Austin pipes due to the presence of zebra mussels at a water treatment facility, Austin Water officials said they believe solutions are on the horizon that will prevent similar events in the future.


The foul water was created when a transmission main that contained mussels was drained for maintenance, killing the animals, Water Treatment Manager Mehrdad Morabbi said. Austin Water was not aware of the mussels’ presence, and when the main was brought back online, the animals created the smell and taste, he said.


“The water was still safe to consume and use, but it’s very difficult to use water that is not palatable,” Morabbi said. “That is something we as Austin Water are putting in barriers to prevent that from happening again. That caught us by surprise, and we were not prepared for and something we are going to avoid in the future.”


The zebra mussel is an invasive species that is present in Lake Travis and Lake Austin, the main sources of water for Austin and the surrounding areas. Mussels multiply quickly and attach to surfaces, which could damage and destroy water infrastructure. By attaching to boats, they are easily moved to new bodies of water.


Morabbi said there is no cost-efficient way to remove mussels from local lakes and rivers, and solutions would ultimately have to come globally, not just from Austin. However, there are techniques the city will be implementing to protect its utility and water quality.


While the city of Austin aims to curb the spread of invasive species such as zebra mussels, it also works to protect native tree and animal species threatened by habitat loss.


On Feb. 6, a lawsuit to remove the golden-cheeked warbler from the federal endangered species list was rejected by a U.S. district judge, preserving the bird’s endangered status.


The Texas Public Policy Foundation filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in June 2017, claiming updated scientific data shows the warbler is no longer in danger of extinction, and the government should direct its conservation resources to other species. In a statement, the foundation said the removal of the golden-cheeked warbler would restore the rights of landowners to effectively manage their own properties without federal oversight.


Melinda Mallia, Travis County natural resources program manager, said the county did not believe the data provided by the TPPF was sound. Since the 1990s, the city of Austin and Travis County have operated the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve and other conservation areas to protect the species.


“We have to continue carrying out our legal obligation for the Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan,” she said. “Even if the warbler had been delisted, we still have a plan based on a federal permit. That is an obligation Austin and the county took on.”


Safety around native animals, such as coyotes, as they become more integrated into their new urban areas also poses challenges for residents.


Sunset Valley Police Chief Lenn Carter said every few months, coyote safety becomes a popular topic within the city. Earlier this year, Sunset Valley residents reported a number of sightings within the South Austin city. This comes after multiple coyote attacks have been reported in North Texas since December as the animals become less afraid of humans.



MOST RECENT

The Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program, giving claimants $600 per week, will end July 25. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Federal unemployment payments of $600 per week end July 25

While the added $600 federal unemployment benefits will end, Texans are still eligible for other forms of relief.

Dr. Steven Kelder is a professor in the Department of Epidemiology, Human Genetics, and Environmental Sciences at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Public Health in Austin with a career spanning more than 25 years. (Graphic by Chance Flowers/Community Impact Newspaper)
Disease expert discusses ongoing pandemic and nearing school year

Dr. Steven H. Kelder recently answered several questions for Community Impact Newspaper regarding COVID-19; trends in cases statewide; and important considerations for parents, students and educators as the 2020-21 school year approaches.

Austin FC stadium under construction
Austin FC releases details on some stadium amenities

Austin FC revealed plans for the North Building—a section of its stadium that will house a beer hall, the team’s merchandise store and a hospitality lounge.

A graphic that reads "today's coronavirus updates"
Travis County coronavirus indicators still hovering at upper end of Stage 4 risk

Travis County saw 657 new cases and 68 new hospitalizions July 13.

The city said residents should make sure they are only watering on their scheduled days based on address. (Courtesy city of Georgetown)
Georgetown faces watering restrictions, SW Austin private school closes: News from Central Texas

Read the latest business and community news from Central Texas here.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, shown here in March, announced July 13 the U.S. Department of Defense would provide additional resource to help Texas combat COVID-19. (Brian Rash/Community Impact Newspaper)
Department of Defense task forces deployed to help Texas combat COVID-19

Gov. Greg Abbott announced July 13 the U.S. Department of Defense would provide more resources to Texas to combat the rise of COVID-19.

The proposed fiscal year 2020-21 budget includes an $11.3 million reduction in police spending, achieved largely by eliminating 100 vacant positions within the Austin Police Department. (Design by Shelby Savage/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin's $4.2 billion proposed budget includes 2.5% reduction to police department funding

Community groups and some Austin City Council members have called for a police department budget reduction of at least $100 million.

Thousands marched from Huston-Tillotson University to the Texas Capitol on June 7 to protest police brutality and systemic racism. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
Where Austin's mayor, 9 City Council members stand on police reform, funding, leadership

With decisions coming soon on the city's fiscal year 2020-21 budget, all but one City Council member sat down for interviews on where they stand on various policing issues in Austin.

Smith Academy services will remain open until the end of day July 31. (Courtesy Pixabay)
South Austin private school to permanently close in August

Smith Academy services will remain open until the end of day July 31.

Dripping Springs ISD sign
Dripping Springs ISD parents to opt into either 100% in-person or remote learning option for 2020-21

While parents can select an online learning option, DSISD will be offering in-person classes on campuses five days a week during the 2020-21 school year.

Travis County has added 3,069 new confirmed cases over the past week from July 6-12. (Community Impact Staff)
Travis County adds 3,069 new coronavirus cases over past week

Travis County has added 3,069 new confirmed cases over the past week from July 6-12.

A sign directs voters inside Ridgetop Elementary School in North Central Austin. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
11.8% of voters in Travis County have voted early since June 29, exceeding 2018 primary numbers

More than 97,000 Travis County residents have voted in person or by mail. The turnout far surpassed the combined early and Election Day totals in the 2018 primary run-off election.