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Zebra Mussels Help Bring Lake Texoma Water Back To DFW

FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) - Despite the "Fiscal Cliff" impasse in Washington, Congress did get one item through in time to help more than a million-and-a-half North Texans. It waived a federal law that threatened to block a plan to put Lake Texoma water back into the North Texas Municipal Water District.

It's all about Zebra Mussels.

The spillway at Lake Lavon is dry...just a trickle of water coming down every once in awhile. That's because the lake itself is about 9-1/2 feet below optimal level. Filling it has been touch-and-go since Zebra Mussels were discovered in Lake Texoma.

The foreign bivalves glom onto anything under water and cause moving parts to seize. Federal law prohibits transferring invasive species across state lines, as Deputy Director of the North Texas Municipal Water District explained. "We have not used that water since July 2009," says Mike Rickman, "which is 28% of the district's supply."

It used to pipe water from Texoma through Sherman and into Lavon. But in 2000, long after pumps were built on what was then Texas, the state line changed when a decades-old border dispute was settled...and the pumps became part of Oklahoma.

The water district originally wanted to extend the pipeline around the lake, keeping the water sealed inside until the mussels met their fate a Wylie treatment plant. "And it's no different from any other mussel we take in through the intakes and pumps and going into the water treatment plant; the water treatment process takes care of the mussels," according to Rickman.

The district went ahead bought pipe though federal law still technically blocked the plan...and then Friday the waiver came through, allowing it to pump water from Oklahoma to Wylie.

This was huge," says Rickman. "This allows us to regain the full use of the Texoma Pump station and the supply of water that the district uses out of Lake Texoma." He adds, "And I think this does show how Congress can be very effective and very quick in getting something done when it has to be done. Because this has a huge impact on the 1.6 million residents that we serve."

The project will cost about $300 million, and users will see a bump in what they pay. Not that residents' lawns will see relief any time soon; though Lavon is up some this year, it's still too low to lift water restrictions.

But Rickman is optimistic.

"Hopefully we'll stay in stage 2 which just restricts watering to twice a week until we can get the Texoma supply back on line." If all goes well, the first new water could be flowing from Lake Texoma into Lake Lavon by late 2013.

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