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Austin Water says zebra mussels rapidly spreading in all water systems

Decaying zebra mussels are responsible for the unpleasant odor Austin Water consumers in Central and South Austin are smelling. (CBS Austin)

Decaying zebra mussels are responsible for the unpleasant odor Austin Water consumers in Central and South Austin are smelling. The department says zebra mussels are infesting our raw water systems by the millions. They say there aren't any contaminants in the treated water, but the smell has people just as worried.

On the second day of Austin's smelly water woes the city says the problem is getting better.

"We measure the smell. There's an index that we use and it had been as high as a nine yesterday and it was down to a one today," says Austin Water director Greg Meszaros.

Austin Water insists the water is clean and safe to drink despite the stink.

"We always disinfect our systems. We have strong disinfection systems where we kill any harmful bacteria or other biological organisms like that," adds Meszaros.

John Higley, founder of EQO, Environmental Quality Operations, is working to control situations just like this with cutting edge technology.

"I have a lot of hope that there is a way to cure this down the road. We're working on it," says Higley.

Higley says zebra mussels are proving to be a far bigger problem than people originally thought. They're hard to detect because their larvae is smaller than a millimeter.

"Those little microscopic ones -- they are currently going into the water. There's no way to keep that from happening," Higley explains.

The City of Austin says they've been anticipating this problem since zebra mussels were first found in Lake Travis in 2017. What they weren't expecting was how quickly they'd infest water piping systems.

"We've got a lot of work ahead of us. They're in all of the water systems. They're in all three of our plants and they're not going away. That's just one of the things we have to deal with in the future," says Meszaros.

Austin Water says they expect to spend millions of dollars fighting the growing zebra mussel problem. They're currently collaborating with consultants on a copper ion system to slow zebra mussel growth. In the meantime, they're beefing up manual cleaning paired with short-term chemical treatment.

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