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Drought Causes Millions in Losses for Lake Travis Economy

This image shows the economic impact of Lake Travis levels. The lake is currently at 629 feet.
Image by Robert Charles Lesser & Co
This image shows the economic impact of Lake Travis levels. The lake is currently at 629 feet.

Lake Travis is an engine for economic activity that pumps $668 million into the local community and supports about 5,200 jobs, according to a new analysis. But low lake levels are draining money from the area.

Specifically, when Lake Travis falls beneath 660 feet above sea level, visitor spending drops by up to $33.8 million, the report by Robert Charles Lesser & Co says. The report was commissioned by Travis County and local business owners, many of whom hope to affect the LCRA's Highland Lakes policy.

 When Lake Travis gets below 650 feet, the study says it’s even worse, “driven by the closure of most of the lake’s boat ramps as well as media attention.”

Lake Travis is currently at 629 feet.

“We’re seeing 40 percent drops in revenues, 50 percent drops in our workforce,” Carlos and Charlie’s Restaurant owner Pete Clark told KUT News. “There’s tremendous uncertainty, because we have no idea when it’s going to come back.”

Other consequences of Lake Travis dropping below 660 feet, according to the study:

  • $23.6 million to $33.8 million reductions in visitor spending
  • A 350,000 to 375,000 fewer park visits
  • 29 lost jobs for each 10 percent drop in park visits
  • Up to 241 lost jobs and $6.1 million in wages
  • $22 million drop in tax revenue
  • $45,000 from decreased hotel receipts
  • $120,000 from less visitors ordering mixed drinks

If you don’t have time to read the full report, you can check out this two-page summary.

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion-dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on X @KUTnathan.
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