Falling lake levels won't stop recreation
Despite continually slipping lake levels and seven drownings by mid-summer, officials say recreational opportunities on Lake Travis will not be curtailed in one of the hottest Texas summers.
Roger Wade, spokesman for the Travis County Sheriff’s Department, says plummeting lake levels are not a factor in drownings. In fact, in the last drought of 2009 that exposed huge chunks of shoreline, there were no drownings at this time in the summer. In the more typical lake level year of 2006, there were still 12 drownings by late July.
“We of course wish there were less, but it’s within norms,” Wade said of the number of 2011 fatalities. “This year, there were three or four that were at Windy Point where people were just out wading in the water and just got out in water too deep and drowned.
“The lake has a very uneven bottom,” he said. “People go out there and aren’t familiar with lakes, they’re familiar with swimming pools.”
Wade noted Travis is a “dark water lake” which makes it difficult for people to see the bottom directly in front of them. With lots of holes and cliffs, they can be ankle deep one step and in a gorge the next.
He also said none of those who drowned were wearing flotation devices. “If they had, they probably would have been okay,” he said.
The Lower Colorado River Authority which controls Lake Travis says 2011 is an aberrant year. Lake Travis, which sees an estimated 1 million visitors a year, has its lowest inflow in 12 years. The period from October 2010 to June 2011 has been the driest since records began being kept in 1895. Unless something tropical brings a change to Central Texas, LCRA predicts Lake Travis will continue to drop a foot a week until October.
Lake access is down to a single public ramp at the Mansfield Dam. New islands are appearing in what were once boating lanes as the lake's surface falls closer to the bottom. But LCRA notes Lake Travis is still 50 percent full.
Even with the shrinking lake, officials say there will never be a reason to consider Lake Travis unsafe for recreational use.
“You’re always going to have the river channel, which is the deepest part of the lake,” Wade said.
Watch the full LCRA pres conference here: