Lake Travis

How Did Lake Travis' Sometimes Islands Get Their Name?

Sep 26, 2019
The Sometimes Islands in Lake Travis
Reshma Kirpalani / KUT

Every summer, more than 200,000 people visit Lake Travis to boat, swim and get some sun. But longtime Austin resident Robert Baumgardner is more interested in the geography of the lake than recreation. Specifically, he's interested in the Sometimes Islands.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

As the old saying goes, “You don’t miss your water till your well runs dry.”

But rather than sit around missing your water, it may be wiser to ask some simple questions: “Why did the well run dry?” “How did the well work in the first place?”

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

Over the past few days we've been hearing a lot about the Highland Lakes and the system of dams in the area. As all of that water makes its way down the Colorado River, we thought this would be a good time to get an explanation of exactly how that system works.

So we asked KUT's Mose Buchele.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

Update: The LCRA now says it will not open eight floodgates on Thursday, Oct. 18, but may in the coming days. 

It’s never happened before, but the Lower Colorado River Authority will likely open eight floodgates on the Mansfield Dam above Lake Austin by noon Thursday.

So, what can you expect if you live in Austin?

Andrea Garcia for KUT

Jonathan Hammond has lived in Marble Falls all 30 years of his life. Until yesterday, he'd never seen flooding so bad.

"This is just crazy absolutely crazy," Hammond said, standing on the Highway 281 bridge watching floodwaters rushed by.

Twitter via @TravisCOSW

The Lower Colorado River Authority is advising residents along Lake Travis to be wary of rising water as levels at Lake Travis are forecast to reach near-record highs.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

The invasive zebra mussel has been moving south for years, leaving destruction its wake. Now, it’s in Lake Travis (update: and Lake Austin), and it will soon make its way downstream, changing the look, feel and maybe even the taste of Austin’s lakes forever.

Carlos 'n Charlie's restaurant on Lake Travis in Austin, Texas, will be having its last last call on Monday. But don't bother coming by boat.

The restaurant has been a lakeside hotspot since it opened in 1995. Back then, docking at the restaurant's wharf was a popular way to take in the party atmosphere, which part-owner Pete Clark describes as like "a cheap Spring break movie."

Lower Colorado River Authority

Lake Travis could drop to a  50-year low this weekend, possibly falling below 626.1 feet. 

“When that does occur, that would be the third lowest level ever on record for Lake Travis, and the lowest since November of 1963," Meteorologist Victor Murphy with the National Weather Service said. "It tells us the drought is persistent and ongoing."

friendsofthehollow.com

Update: Travis County Parks reversed its decision to change boating rules at Hippie Hollow on Lake Travis at a public meeting last night.

In fact, after about a week of tension between Travis County Parks and people who frequent Hippie Hollow, the meeting ended with laughter and applause.

“This is a great example of a grass roots movement. Where people are trying to reach out the administrators who work in their government and the guys come to the table and listen to what the folks have to say,” Friends of the Hollow member Randall Huntsinger said.

flickr.com/daleremote

State lawmakers met Wednesday to discuss the Texas drought and how extremely low Central Texas lake levels are hurting the economy. 

The Texas House Committee on Culture, Recreation, & Tourism heard testimony from Travis County Commissioner Karen Huber and the Central Texas Water Coalition. Both Commissioner Huber and the Coalition are seeking assistance from the state for the populations living and working around the lakes. They told lawmakers that funding and assistance is needed to support the impacted communities.

Huber recounted stories she's heard from several Lake Travis business owners:

"One gas station owner says he has shut 3 of his 4 gas stations. Another business owner who owns several business on the lake says he is raiding his kids' college funds for two years. My partners and I have cashed in every IRA we have tucked away. And we are running out of options."

LCRA

Recent rainfall is helping to fill the Highland Lakes—at least a little bit.

Parts of Central Texas received more than two inches of rain on Sunday. Combined with rainfall from earlier last week, rainfall totals for some areas topped nine inches.

The Lower Colorado River Authority says the water level of Lake Travis is up a little over a foot. Lake Buchanan only saw a gain of a few hundredths of an inch.

"The location of the rain makes all the difference and, in this case, the vast majority of the rain fell over the Highland Lakes basin," LCRA river operations center supervisor Dan Yates says.

Updated drought maps show the drought has eased across Texas in the past week. But the lingering effects persist.

Photo by jrandallc http://www.flickr.com/photos/jrandallc/

The Lake Travis Cavaliers won the last five Class 4A state football championships. But now the University Interscholastic League is bumping up Lake Travis to 5A, the division populated by the state's largest high schools. As the Austin American-Statesman notes, that puts Lake Travis in a district with Westlake, Bowie, Austin High, Anderson, Del Valle and Akins.

Image by Robert Charles Lesser & Co

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.

Photo courtesy of tonguetyed at Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tonguetyed/14791382/

New rules are in place for the popular Devil’s Cove on Lake Travis.

The City of Jonestown, which has jurisdiction over that part of the Lake, issued the new ordinance. Party barges (those big party boats with an upper deck) are no longer allowed in the cove, unless they have special permission.  Also, no more than five boats can tie up together now.  

KUT News

Fireworks displays have been banned, lakes drying up and crops scorched. It's safe to say the drought in Central Texas is bad. And it's not over yet.

Photo courtesy of LCRA.

Correction for Clarification: The Lower Colorado River Authority requests that customers impose mandatory water restrictions when the combines lake storage drop below 900,000 acre-feet of water, but does not curtail.

View in a larger map

With Memorial Day weekend just days away, only three out of the eleven boat ramps on Lake Travis are open right now. You can see their locations in the map above. Eight ramps are closed because of low lake levels. Lake Travis is currently more than 20 feet below its May average.

That has public officials warning boaters about so-called Sometimes Islands, temporary land that is exposed when lake levels fall. You can see a picture of Sometimes Islands on Lake Travis here.