Friday, March 16, 2012

Week Three: Zebra mussel and gneiss

Inks Dam National Fish Hatchery welcomes visitors 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. daily. "Due to budget constraints, only one staff person works on Saturday and Sunday so it can be difficult to find them," manager Paul Dorman says. But be patient–the staff member on duty will turn up eventually and answer questions. 

Below Inks Lake Dam, a little known natural area lies within the Inks Dam National Fish Hatchery. Wildflowers galore and other native vegetation thrives on the slopes and atop the rock formations at the 161-acre site, located off Park Road 4 on Clay Young Road.

I was amazed to discover how beautiful this place is! Plus, our climb to a panoramic overlook wasn’t too strenuous or difficult, a bonus for parents of small children.

Week Three of our Texas Master Naturalist training with the Highland Lakes chapter also included a hatchery tour along with presentations on water conservation and invasive zebra mussels.

At the hatchery’s Education Center, Amanda Dewees, conservation coordinator with the Lower Colorado River Authority, spoke on “Water in Central Texas and the Role of Conservation.”

For background, she explained how 1996’s bad drought led to Senate Bill 1, which recreated 16 regional water-planning groups across Texas. (I remember writing about that as a newspaper reporter.) Ranked second in the state’s fasted growing areas, Region K–our Lower Colorado region–is expected to grow in population by 100 percent by 2060. Region M–the Rio Grande Valley area–is ranked number one in projected growth.

“Existing water supplies will go down 10 percent because the Ogallala Aquifer [in North Texas] is being depleted faster than it’s being replenished,” Dewees said. “Water demands will increase 22 percent, largely because agricultural use, which is larger, will shift to municipal use.”

Along the Colorado River, the LCRA manages six lakes: Buchanan, Inks, LBJ, Marble Falls, Travis and Austin. Some lakes supply water for residential and commercial use; all generate electric power and provide recreational opportunities. Dewees shared about how the agency also manages–which hasn’t been easy–“firm” customers (those with water supply contracts) and “interruptible” customers (irrigation contracts).

Though the current drought isn’t yet over, recent rains have brought much-needed relief. Officially, 2011 has been pronounced the “drought of record,” Dewees said. In Texas, rainfall for last year only averaged 14.88 inches; in 1917, weather watchers recorded 14.99 inches, the prior drought of record. Average annual rainfalls runs around 30 to 35 inches.

Note: For more info, visit Texas Drought and the Texas Water Foundation

Turning to water conservation, Dewees quizzed us on our water-consumption knowledge. Did you know that…

·      A 10-minute shower = 25 gallons of water
·      A washing-machine load of clothes = 40 gallons
·      Flushing a toilet = 2 gallons
·      One-half inch water on 1/8-acre lawn = 2,500 gallons
·      Washing hands with water running 2 minutes = 4 gallons
·      A faucet dripping for a day = 30 gallons

“Drought responses are about sacrifices and restrictions, not sustainability,” Dewees pointed out. “People make changes in response to a drought. Water conservation, on the other hand, is a lifestyle and long-term savings.” Like campaigns against smoking and promoting recycling, attitudes about water consumption can be changed with awareness and education, she said.  

Incentives, such as rebates for installing high-efficiency toilets and irrigation systems, help to promote conservation. For more info, visit

Dewees mentioned one development that’s incorporating native habitat with housing–Belvedere on Hamilton Pool Road.(In my opinion, we need a lot more developers with this kind of mindset and forethought!)

After lunch, hatchery manager Paul Dorman delivered a gloomy report on invasive zebra (Dreissena polymorpha) and quagga (Dreissena bugensis) mussels.   

“When we see them here, IT WILL BE TOO LATE,” he said. “There is NO biological control for these mussels. NADA. ZIP. NOTHING! They look very innocuous. However, they use their byssal threads like Super Glue to attach any hard surface.”

Hard surface can mean boats, infrastructure and native mussels and other underwater life. One female can lay more than a million microscopic eggs in a spawning season! The baby “villagers,” as they're called, can grow up to 2 inches big and quickly latch on to whatever they find. “If you’re an indigenous mussel, you’re going to die because you can't open any more,” Dorman said.  

Via cargo ships, the two European species first got into the Great Lakes in the 1980s. Since then, they’ve moved into other states by waterways, such as the Mississippi River. 

Spread the word, educate your friends and family about these dangerous species, Dorman warned. Because once villagers get into a lake or river, IT'S TOO LATE. 

Boats should drained, inspected, high-pressured washed and thoroughly dried before visiting a different waterbody. For more info, go to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's Zebra Mussels page. Also see Protect Your Waters and 100th Meridian Initiative.

And now, time to let the photos talk.....

Scrambled eggs

Low bladderpod


Claret cup cactus

Sedum and a baby bluebonnet

Bluebonnets in full force!

Bee brush (Aloysia gratissima)

Texas groundsel


Nuttall's milk-vetch


Blue phacelia

After our brief hatchery tour, Jerry, a Master Naturalist with Highland Lakes, led us up the Overlook Trail....

"It's so beautiful up here!" exclaimed one of my classmates.

"It's like a mini Enchanted Rock," I commented.

Some sedum caught my eye. "That's good to eat," said Jerry, our guide and a Master Naturalist. "Have a bite!"

The views at the top were amazing. Jerry told us that the rock formation is some 1.2 billions years old and part of the Llano Uplift. The rock is gneiss (not pink granite), which is composed of feldspar, mica and quartz.

Inks Lake Dam lies to the north...

...and to the south, the Inks Dam National Fish Hatchery.
Lace cactus
More peppergrass

Awesome formations
Vernal pool
Quartz vein

Heading back down the trail

Native ferns

A chunk of embedded quartz

More ferns

Claret cup cactus

Bull nettle
On the Ashe Juniper Trail, Highland Lakes Master Naturalists have built a water feature for bird watchers.
"See how tough bluebonnets are?" Mike, one of our leaders, pointed out to me. "They can even grow out of concrete!"

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