How a Freshwater Mussel Could Cause Water Woes in Texas

If you want to find Texas Hornshell Mussels, look in freshwater river basins in New Mexico, Texas and south of the Rio Grande. But you can also find them in the middle of a legal battle.

Last week the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to put the mussel on the endangered species list. If that happens, this could turn into a big problem for how water is distributed in Texas.

Asher Price, reporter for the Austin American-Statesman, says that the federal government has been considering the mussels for protection because of loss of habitat.

“Its habitat has declined a lot – I think it’s 15 percent of its historical range,” Price says. “The feds have long eyed this freshwater mussel, along with a bunch of other Texas freshwater mussels, for possible listing as endangered species. And that involves a lot of special protections to keep it safe.”

One of the declines in habitat is because of diminishing water quality, Price says. By giving the mussels protected status, the water from the rivers they dwell in will be allocated differently. This has raised concerns among some Texans.

“It’s completely possible that an endangered species listing will lead to the river authorities that oversee water in Texas’ rivers to reallocate how water is given out from these rivers,” Price says. “That’s going to lead to some big court cases in all likelihood, and a big headache for these river authorities.”

This story originally appeared on the Texas Standard, the statewide daily news magazine from KUT-Austin.

This story originally appeared on the Texas Standard, the statewide daily news magazine from KUT-Austin.

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