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Sen. Cornyn pledges support against zebra mussels
Sen. John Cornyn, right, met with officials from the North Texas Municipal Water District and the city of Plano on Friday to discuss zebra mussels and the impact they've had on the area's water supply. Photo courtesy of Sen. Cornyn's office.
North Texas has found an ally in the U.S. Senate to help it fight zebra mussels. Sen. John Cornyn met with officials from the North Texas Municipal Water District and the city of Plano on Friday to discuss the invasive species and consider solutions for the havoc they've wrecked on the area's water supply.
The North Texas Municipal Water District provides water to more than 1.6 million customers in 13 member cities, one of which is Frisco.
At the meeting, held at Plano City Hall, the senator was briefed about the extent of the spread of zebra mussels and the cost they've caused the area.
When zebra mussels were found in Lake Texoma on April 3, 2009, it meant the water district would have to stop pumping water from the lake because of the Lacey Act. The Lacey Act is a federal law that states invasive species cannot be transferred across state lines; Lake Texoma's pump station resides partly in Oklahoma, according to the federal government.
Jim Parks, executive director of the North Texas Municipal Water District, stressed to Cornyn that because Lake Texoma's pump station has been offline for three years, the water district is having difficulty meeting the demands of its customers in an efficient manner.
"Texoma is a vital and critical part of our water supply to our customers," Parks said. "We [also] take water from Lavon, Chatman, Tawakoni and our wetland project, but Texoma amounts to about 25 percent of our water supply -- so it's an integral part of our ability to serve our population base."
Parks went on to say the water district is considering multiple routes to alleviate its issue with Lake Texoma offline, although many of the potential fixes are less than ideal for the water district.
One such fix, for instance, would require the water district to go to the U.S. Attorney's Office every five years to renew a non-prosecution agreement to keep it from violating the Lacey Act. The agreement would have to be renewed after each five-year period for as long as Lake Texoma is impacted by zebra mussels.
The best potential fix, Parks said, would be the passage of legislation that would exempt the water district from the Lacey Act.
Legislation to do just that has already been introduced in the House of Representatives via a bill sponsored by Rep. Ralph Hall. That bill, H.R. 6007 (North Texas Zebra Mussel Barrier Act of 2012), does not currently have a counterpart in the Senate, which is where Cornyn would come in.
If those bills pass, the water district's new $300 million pipeline extension would be able to begin transferring water from Lake Texoma directly to a water treatment plant by Lake Lavon. The pipeline would be in service by the end of next year following its completion, Parks said.
Following the briefing, Cornyn had a recommendation on how he could help fight zebra mussels from the U.S. Senate.
"I'm certainly glad to help you in the Senate," Cornyn said. "What we could try to do is something called a 'hotline' bill, [which is where] a noncontroversial bill passes by unanimous consent unless someone objects to it without having to schedule floor time or finding a vehicle for it."
Cornyn added that he'd have to discuss the matter with fellow senators, but that the bill appeared to be noncontroversial enough to him. "You have my commitment we'll do whatever is necessary to help in that regard," he told the water district and city of Plano officials.
In addition to the obvious impact on residents, Cornyn also saw another potential impact the zebra mussel has had on local businesses.
"The fact of the matter is this little mussel threatens the water supply in Plano and this entire region," Cornyn said. "In Texas, we understand that water is absolutely critical to our economy and jobs, and this is a key factor that job creators look to when they try to create new businesses and opportunities."