By VICTORIA PELHAM Washington Bureau: September 10, 2012
WASHINGTON — The U.S. House agreed Monday to allow pumping to resume from Lake Texoma, a step that could end a ban meant to stop the spread of invasive zebra mussels.
The lake straddles the Texas-Oklahoma border. In 2009, federal authorities halted pumping when zebra mussels were discovered, under the Lacey Act, which makes it illegal to transport dangerous species between states.
That cut off a quarter of the supply for the North Texas Municipal Water District, which serves more than 1.6 million people.
The bill, if approved by the Senate and signed into law, would allow the district to pump water from Lake Texoma through a 46-mile pipeline to a water treatment facility in Wylie, where officials say any mussel larvae would be killed.
The bill’s author, House Science Committee Chairman Ralph Hall, R-Rockwall, said on the House floor Monday that North Texas is facing a unique situation.
“Our local water folks have been working extremely hard to prevent the spread of zebra mussels while simultaneously attempting to provide enough clean water to our citizens, but they need our help,” he said.
Mike Rickman, the district’s deputy director, called congressional action critical to protect the region’s water supply.
U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, said on the floor that Congress had come together “not just in a bipartisan way, but really in a common-sense way” to give the “opportunity for 1.6 million people to be able to get water who need this desperately … at a time of much consternation in Texas, where we have fires and drought and heat and a lot of problems.”
Zebra mussels latch on to any surface they come across en masse, interrupting the ecosystem.
Experts have said the mussels have become dense in Texoma and also have spread heavily to Lake Ray Roberts. Supporters of the bill said that the pumping would not pose any threat of spreading them further.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in testimony to Congress, has cited concerns about the environmental impact and the precedent that lifting the ban in Texas would set.