Lake Travis, other Highland Lakes closed for recreational boating

A one year difference shows the before and dramatic after of the Lake Travis lake levels (KXAN Viewer Photo/ Karen Schodde and Richard Skipper)

LAKEWAY, Texas (KXAN) — Although the level of Lake Travis is now slowly falling, it remains closed to recreational boating as the swift flow from dam releases upstream, boat wakes and newly submerged objects pose a threat to boaters and property.

With the exception of Lake Buchanan, there are now recreational boating bans on all of the Highland Lakes. The bans extend downriver to below Longhorn Dam in Austin until further notice. All recreational activity is banned on Lake Austin, Lady Bird Lake and on the river below Longhorn Dam. Floodgates remain open on all of the Highland Lakes, with water flowing over the spillway at Inks Lake.

Lake Travis reached its ninth highest level ever recorded Monday at 692.6 feet, and is 121 percent full. The LCRA says the lake began falling Wednesday. Approximately 25,000 cubic feet of water per second is being released through four open floodgates at Mansfield Dam. That equates to approximately 11.2 million gallons of water per minute, or the flow of Niagara Falls every four seconds.

The releases from upstream dams have turned the normally placid Lady Bird Lake into the fast moving river it often was before the 1930s and 1940s, when the Highland Lakes were created. Lady Bird Lake is among those lakes that are currently closed for recreation.

After fighting and struggling through years of drought, the high lake level is already hurting businesses on the lake, only now on the other end of the lake’s extreme.

“This is bad. Very, very, bad,” said Nan Martin at Highland Lakes Marina. “I am looking out for the safety of our customers so, yes, we shut the marina down.”

Mansfield Dam Park flooded (KXAN Photo/Juan Salinas)
Mansfield Dam Park flooded (KXAN Photo/Juan Salinas)

Submerged debris and objects could cause damage to boats according to the LCRA and wake from boats could damage lakefront properties when the water level is so high.

Rett Scudder with Beach Front Boat Rentals said they have rescheduled many party barges and were being extremely careful with the trips scheduled for Monday.

“[The group] has been looking forward to it and we did not want to cancel it so we are trying to get in as many trips as we can,” said Scudder. Knowledge of the immediate area where his business sits helps keep rides safe according to Scudder. “We know where to go, because this is our backyard.”

Lake Travis has risen 8.2 feet in the past eight days and nearly 12 feet in the past month.

As the waters continued to rise, more and more homes were threatened. Graveyard Point residents once again gathered their belongings and headed to higher ground.

Mobile homes next to the lake start flooding at 688 feet and permanent home flood at 691 feet.

“Preparing to move non-essential items to higher ground, and putting the rest of our stuff in storage, just hoping that we will stay below 693 feet,” said Matt Morrow, Graveyard Point resident.

Less than one foot away from 693, homes along the lake are filling with water. However, this is not the first time homeowners have had to flee the flooding. Even with the headache of constantly moving items back and forth, Matt says he has no plans on leaving his home anytime soon, but rather keep an eye on the lake levels.

The last time Graveyard Point was underwater was 2007. In just a few hours over 20 inches of rain poured down rapidly filling the lake.

Historic Crests

(1) 710.44 ft on 12/25/1991
(2) 707.38 ft on 05/18/1957
(3) 705.11 ft on 07/07/1997
(4) 704.68 ft on 02/10/1992
(5) 701.50 ft on 07/06/2007
(6) 696.70 ft on 11/24/2004
(7) 693.50 ft on 07/07/2002
(8) 693.48 ft on 10/14/1987
(9) 692.58 ft on 10/07/1959
(10) 692.42 ft on 04/18/1977
(11) 688.13 ft on 03/20/1998
(12) 687.29 ft on 02/22/1997

Some residents say the LCRA isn’t properly notifying the community. However, the LCRA countered saying it is up to the city or county to alert residents of when to move out for flooding.

Recently, a floating restaurant was inaccessible on Lake Travis after the rising water sunk the dock. Now Gnarly Gar, offers a 5 minute shuttle ride on a pontoon boat that takes you to your table.

Waterway ban

The Austin Fire Chief has determined dangerous conditions still exist on Lady Bird Lake, Lake Austin and the Colorado River downstream from the Longhorn Dam and has extended the waterway ban until Noon Wednesday.

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