Forty or fifty years ago, one could see two dozen sailboats on any given weekend day on Lake Austin. Today, with lake traffic at an all-time high, especially because of the low level of Lake Travis, seeing a beautiful sailboat is a rarity.
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The last time Lake Austin was surveyed it was determined that it had one of the highest readings of hydrilla ever recorded and it has become much more than just a nuisance. One quick look from a boaters point of view says a lot about hydrillas rapid growth. Steve Present who has been enjoying the lake for more than 10 years says this is this is the worst he’s ever seen it.
“If I get in the middle of this patch of hydrilla, my boat will get stuck in there,” said Present as we rode his boat up and down Lake Austin. “It will over heat, I won’t be able to move and it will be all over my propeller — so as we talk, I don’t want to float into it cause I know what it does trying to get out.”
He used to worry about the inconvenience. Now Present says the “twine-prickly” texture of hydrilla could become a swimmer’s death trap. “At night, if you don’t see one of these patches of hydrilla and you hit it with your boat, your boat is coming to a stop… quickly,” Present said. “Somebody could fall out or if you have a skier behind you and that person falsl in the middle of this patch, it’s going to be scary.”
Hydrilla growth has gotten so bad you can literally see large pods floating down the lake often time even carrying small passengers on board. In July, it was estimated 580 acres of Lake Austin was covered with hydrilla.A new survey being done will determine whether 3,000 Asian grass carp, dropped into the lake in June, have made a difference.
City of Austin environmentalist Mary Gilroy says hydrilla has exploded due to the drought and sunlight reaching lower levels.
“Lake Austin levels aren’t dropping but Lake Travis levels are dropping,” said Gilroy. “That means the water in Lake Austin is much warmer and warm water and decreased flow really helps hydrilla grow.” She says hydrilla could pose a huge risk to homes along the shore — especially the next time the area sees heavy rains. “It can actually impede a flood flow through the lakes, so when we had a big flood in July 2002 the hydrilla was so thick that it actually caused flooding of some homes that would not normally flood,” said Gilroy.
And no one is more aware of that than Present and his neighbors. “Water has to come through this lake to go downstream and it’s going to be a serious problem,” Present said.
It will take several days for the results of the new survey to come back before the City of Austin can determine what the next step will be when it comes to tackling the hydrilla problem.
Austin police will be on Lake Austin this weekend to enforce a Labor Day ban on personal watercraft, such as jet skis, wet bikes, motorized surfboards and similar devices.
However, you can still catch some rays on a motorboat. The boat must stay on the right side of the lake unless assisting a downed skier, according to a statement from the Austin Police Department.
The ban will start at sunset Friday will end at sunrise Tuesday, the statement said.
“The Austin Police Department Austin and the Austin Parks and Recreation Department want the public to enjoy the parks and lakes but urge people to make this a safe holiday,” it said.
LCRA has announced there are no plans to lower the levels of lakes Inks, LBJ, Marble Falls or Austin this winter. The LCRA periodically lowers the levels of these lakes to help control nuisance plants and allow lakeside residents to build and maintain docks. The LCRA did not lower any of these lake levels last year, due to the severe drought.
The statement on the LCRA site says that the lowering of lake levels this winter would not be a wise, efficient use of water while the drought persists.
State game wardens have issued 36 tickets so far this year for boating while intoxicated on Lake Austin and Lake Travis.
Most of the tickets — 29 — were written to boaters on Lake Austin. Because of the low water levels, activity is down this year on Lake Austin.
Last weekend, wardens issued seven BWI tickets on the two lakes and made six arrests on alcohol-related offenses.
Officers last weekend said the rules out on the water are so strict for boating while intoxicated because most times drunk boaters end up getting in their cars after they’re done on the lake, making for an even more dangerous situation.
“People assume boating is separate from driving, but really it’s the same thing you are operating a motor vehicle accidents can happen,” said warden Chris Hunt. “It’s not going to be a good time if by the end of the day something goes wrong.”
Lake Austin is getting another batch of a fish to battle the growing hydrilla problem.
The Lower Colorado River Authority is adding 5,000 more Asian grass carp.
Last month the LCRA released 3,000 into the lake.
The sterile fish love to eat hydrilla, which is an invasive plant that chokes out native vegetation. It’s taken over about a quarter of the lake.
The LCRA usually lowers the water level of the lake to dry out the plant but couldn’t this year because of the drought.
Austin Water is monitoring a natural occurring algae bloom in Lake Austin that does not affect the safety of our drinking water but may cause an unusual taste and odor.
Austin Water’s routine sampling and testing of our raw water supply has detected elevated blue green algae levels that may lead to concerns of a “musty” taste and odor. The taste and odor is a result of the completion of the blue green algae bloom. The water is safe to drink but as the algae complete the bloom it releases compounds that impart a grassy, earthy, musty taste to the water.
To minimize the impact, Austin Water is adding activated carbon into the treatment process. The activated carbon adsorbs the compounds released by the algae that create the unusual taste and odor. By introducing activated carbon in advance Austin Water expects to minimize the impact of any potential taste and odor issues. However, there is still a chance the taste and odor issue may not entirely be eliminated.
Austin Water will continue to monitor and test for potential taste and odor issues until we are confident that the algae bloom is complete. It is important to understand that the water is safe to drink and that Austin’s tap water continues to meet all regulatory standards.