Monthly Archive: July 2017

Hazards of Invasive Zebra Mussels

Zebra Mussels have been positively identified for the first time at Lake Travis in Central Texas.  Zebra Mussels are an invasive species originating from eastern Europe and western Russia. A single adult female zebra mussel can produce up to one million larvae each year that cannot be seen by the naked eye, causing infestation to occur before a sighting. Zebra mussels attach to any hard surface in the water including submerged infrastructure, piping, watercraft, and even native mussels. Currently, there is no known way to eliminate zebra mussels from entire lakes without harming native species and colonies, and are expensive to remove from surfaces. With infestation occurring rapidly due to the swift reproduction rate, zebra mussels require large amounts of plankton to survive, depriving other species of food.

First discovered in Texas in 2009, zebra mussels have now infested 11 lakes including Belton, Bridgeport, Canyon, Dean Gilbert, Eagle Mountain, Lewisville, Randell, Ray Roberts, Stillhouse Hollow, Texoma, and, as of June 22, Lake Travis in Austin, Texas. Lake Travis is upstream to Lake Austin and Lady Bird Lake making infestation to the downstream lakes inevitable.  Zebra mussels damage boats, plug water systems, and sink navigation buoys.  Millions of dollars are spent each year controlling, cleaning, and monitoring zebra mussels.  Zebra mussels have a high rate of filtration which leads to an increase in water clarity and decreases beneficial phytoplankton like diatoms and green algae.  Water temperatures increase and the depth at which light penetrates the water increases negatively impacting organisms at deeper water depths.  Zebra mussels also feed on zooplankton and will smother an existing colony of native mussels.

It is important to take safety precautions to prevent spread of the invasive species to other lakes. Boaters are required by law to drain all water from their boats when leaving or approaching public water. This includes sailboats, kayaks, canoes, etc. It is important to inspect the watercraft after use and remove any attached vegetation, mud, or unknown objects. All compartments of the boat must be dried, including the exterior, for at least a week. If it is not possible to leave the boat outside of water for a week, the boat should be washed using high pressure soapy water. Transporting zebra mussels, knowingly or unknowingly, is illegal and first-time offenders can be fined up to $500.  For more information about the invasive species in Texas, visit texasinvasive.org.

SSCI: Hazardous Materials Manager for SH 288 Toll Lanes Expansion Project

SSCI began work on the State Highway (SH) 288 Toll Lanes Expansion Project in Harris County providing hazardous materials management and emergency response in July 2016. Since that time, SSCI has assisted in construction activities, hazardous material handling and disposal, and in managing environmental hazards associated with the project. Construction activities have taken place in the early morning hours before rush hour traffic and in the middle of the night.  We’ve been there to see it all.

The project consists of expanding three major interchanges within a 10.3-mile stretch from US Interstate 59 (US 59) to the Harris County line at Clear Creek. The completed project will provide direct accessibility to the Texas Medical Center and relieve traffic congestion on SH 288.  The construction of new toll lanes will connect Sam Houston Parkway (Beltway 8) and Interstate Highway (IH) 610, and includes the construction of new tolled lanes, direct connectors, an Electronic Toll Collection System, utility adjustments, and adjustments of existing lanes.  Construction began in October 206.

 

Visit Drive288 for information regarding the construction activities and lane closures.

 

 

Environmental concerns for the project were identified in the Environmental Assessment prepared for SH 288, US 59 to CR 60, Harris and Brazoria Counties, prepared by the US Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) in April 2013.   The project area is located with an highly urbanized community south of Houston.  The Environmental Assessment was a comprehensive review of the construction project and any impacts on the environment including but not limited to socioeconomic impacts, environmental justice, wildlife, vegetation, soils, threatened and endangered species, fish habitat, water quality, noise, air quality, floodplains, coastal zones, cultural resources, and hazardous materials.  Several hundred potentially impacted properties were identified in the immediate vicinity of the expansion project. Further investigation included soil and groundwater sampling to depths greater than 60 feet below ground surface in specific construction areas.  Ultimately, the FHWA determined that a significant impact to the human or natural environment would not be created by the proposed project.  

SSCI’s role in the project has been to provide construction oversight regarding potential hazardous materials identified during the performance of the Environmental Assessment. These hazards have included asbestos and chemical compounds in soil and groundwater.  Our team of professionals have developed a Soil Groundwater Management Plan working closely with the Drive 288 team and TxDOT.