Boaters warned of flood debris on Highland Lakes

Debris in Highland Lakes. (Courtesy: LCRA)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — If you plan on putting your boat in Lake Travis, or any of the Highland Lakes, this upcoming weekend, the Lower Colorado River Authority is reminding boaters to use extreme caution due to debris from recent rains and flooding.

The lakes are inundated with runoff, which includes debris from recent strong thunderstorms and tornadoes. Damaged tree limbs are being washed into the lakes, creating “deadheads,” partially submerged logs, which can be hazardous to boating enthusiasts. Michael Mudd, who sells boats on Lake Travis, says “It’s not going to be good for people’s boats. It’s very dangerous. The debris field is just now starting to come down the lake.”

Marinas located inside coves pose the highest risk for boaters. Mudd says the water comes down into Lake Travis from Marble Falls and swirls into the quieter coves, which almost act like “sticky fingers” to trap debris, which can make it hazardous for a boat to even get away from its dock.

The problem for most boaters is that they don’t see how big the danger is. They may be looking at a small twig on the top of the water, but the limb could be several feet larger, heavier and wider just below the water’s surface. Swimmers, tubers and skiers could be hurt by hitting the debris, and it has the potential to damage boat motors, stranding boaters on the lake.

Paradise Cove Marina manager Matt Rinella found a massive 14 ft. stump in Lake Travis after a smaller flood last year.

Mudd predicts the continued runoff means another deluge of debris could be forced into Travis’ coves on Thursday. In fact, he says you should stay off the lakes for a full week after flooding rains, to stay on the safe side. If you decide to go out on the lake anyway, he says “Every boater should do their part, like I did. If you see floating limbs, grab one, stick it in your boat and get it off the lake.”

The LCRA conducted surveys of the lakes on Tuesday to assess hazards. There are no watercraft bans on lakes Travis, Marble Falls and LBJ right now, but the LCRA still urges people to stay off the lakes at night until conditions improve. The following is a direct statement from the LCRA:

Most of the debris will settle out and sink. Some of the bigger pieces, such as logs, will end up along the shoreline. Once the rains stop, this settling process can take three to six weeks.  In the meantime, anyone using the Highland Lakes, especially Lake Travis, needs to exercise caution and keep a sharp lookout for debris.

LCRA will remove or mark any obstructions in the main navigational channels with buoys.

Many people have hired contractors to retrieve their personal property washed away from the floodwaters.

In addition, LCRA encourages boat owners to secure their docks now in anticipation of the next flash flood. Here are tips on how to prepare docks for a flood.

If you do decided to swim in an area be aware that natural waters are not chlorinated or disinfected. The risk is higher after heavy rains when bacteria levels are elevated due to fecal matter washed into the lakes and streams. People who go into the water do so at their own risk. Read more about water recreation and safety.

Tune into KXAN News at 5 p.m. to see the debris piling up on the lakes.

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