Lake Travis, Austin, Texas, USA, 2011
This is Lake Travis during an intense drought in South Texas. Lake Travis is a feeder for Lake Austin, which is kept at constant level. As a result, the lake nearly dried up.
Lake Travis, Austin, Texas, USA, 2016
Lake Travis once again has the water it desperately needed. Rain has returned to Texas, often in excess, and the many lakes are back to normal water levels.
Lake Travis, Austin, Texas, USA

In this video, Chris Fernandez, a resident of Austin, talks about the change in water levels at Lake Travis, a beautiful, lively lake to the northwest of Austin. Chris talks about the horrible drought that affected southern Texas when he was in junior high and high school.

Observer: Christopher Fernandez
Interviewer: William Kleinheinz
Interview Date: January 30, 2018
Submission Date: February 1, 2018
Keywords: drought fish lake
About This Place

Historic Appearance

Chris tells us that for a couple years, the lake's water level dropped to below 50%, exposing sand bars in the middle of the lake. He tells us that these sand bars became a hazard for boaters and caused many accidents. He recalls that the low water level and hot summer caused tons of fish to die and float to the surface. Chris also tells us that, perhaps unrelated to the drop in water level, the lake had an invasive weed dominate parts of the lake and become hazardous for boaters and swimmers.

Changes over Time

Chris Fernandez tells us that Lake Travis is again a fun place to spend the summers. He mentions that that the lake is back near full water level of water, and it is home to people cooling off in the hot Texas summer.

Historic & Current Activities

During the drought, Chris said he rarely went on the lake due to the low water levels. Many people with homes on the lake saw property values plummet as their lakefront homes became hundreds of yards from the shore. It was often too dangerous to wakeboard or tube because the water levels were so low, and the lake became very crowded.

Chris and his friends can once again tube and wakeboard in Lake Travis. He told me that many of his friends had lake house and they would often spend days at a time out at the lake during the summer. Lake Travis is also a hot spot for fishing in the area, especially for Large Mouth Bass.

Conversation Transcript

Interviewer: Hi there? So I’m here with Chris Fernandez. We’re going to be talking about a Lake Travis and Austin, Texas. So, Chris, tell me a little about yourself, where you’re from growing up around the lake.

Chris: Yes, so my name is Chris. I grew up in Austin, Texas for the first 18 years of my life before coming to college in the exact same area in Northwest Austin, so very close to both Lake Austin and Lake Travis. I grew up wakeboarding, jet skiing and just going out on the boat with friends in the lake more kind of in junior high and high school. It was a very common thing that we did on the weekends for my whole life.

Interviewer: Awesome, awesome I’m actually from Texas too and same kind of upbringing. I did a whole lot, like always on the lake in the summer. It was always good to be out there, I mean I’m talking to you because we actually had a big problem in Texas about local drought and the lake that I grew up going on was almost done empty. I think it was a similar situation with like Austin, isn’t that right?

Chris: Yeah, between Lake Travis and Lake Austin, so lake Austin is a constant level lake that Lake Travis actually flows into. So they always kept Lake Austin level but then during the drought, I guess that was back in I guess between like maybe 08 through 2012. The drought was really bad and the lake got really low. I want to say it was down to like below 50% capacity. The lake is also used for drinking water, so people were worried about drinking water. Tons of people lost a lot of money because their houses or the lake around their houses could no longer be used, kinda destroyed some infrastructure there but people were generally very concerned.

There are also limits on now people being able to go out and enjoy the lake because of sandbars arising in certain levels. So it was a big problem for a number of years.

Interviewer: I’ve heard about it, didn’t they started having bad boating accidents because people would run around in the sandbox, right?

Chris: Exactly so people would try to use the lake, like they just hadn’t been using it for their whole lives, not realizing that like the drought was actually affecting areas that they couldn’t necessarily see. So then people would be driving their boats as fast as they usually would in areas that they were used to being fine then there ended up being some like bad boating accidents with people we are running into the ground.

Interviewer: Let me get this, there’s a golf course right there on the edge of the lake?

Chris: Yes.

Interviewer: Is that golf course affected as well, by the way?

Chris: That golf course was on Lake Austin actually. So, again, Lake Austin, right next to was a 360 bridge and that was fine again, because I think they always keep it at a constant level. I will say because there were water restrictions, there might’ve been some issues with them being able to water their feather ways and their reps and stuff like that. But again, that lakes kept pretty constant.

Interviewer: Gotcha, I know you told me that there were some other problems that had risen from the low water levels, right?

Chris: Yeah, one of the problems actually was like an invasive species and this was in lake Austin that had come in, and I’m not sure if this was directly correlated with the drought but it was happening at the exact same time. I think it was called hydrilla or duckweed and it was a problem because it would grow really big and it was really like a thick leafy, like underwater plant and it would like get caught in boat propellers and also people swimming, it would like get caught around their legs. And so it was a safety hazard and that was in Lake Austin.

And I know they had a problem clearing the duckweed because they were going to drain the lake a little bit and then clear it and then fill the leg back up. But again, because of the drought, they didn’t have enough water to do so, so they couldn’t drain it to clear the weeds. So like the combination of those two problems made just boating harder hanging out on the lake harder.

Interviewer: There was some problems with fish as well in the summer, is that right?

Chris: Yeah, also when the water was, I just remember going out and jet skiing a few times with my friends and this was on Lake Travis there. We’d be driving around on our jet skis and there’ll be like a lot of just dead fish, just like kind of upside down in the water. And I want to say too that it had to do with the fact that something to do with the combination of the heat and the drought and the low water levels led to like a decrease in the amount of oxygen that was in the water. So then a bunch of the different fish species were having trouble literally breathing, a lot of them were dying.

Interviewer: It’s really nuts, kind of back to the timeline, so when you were a kid, you know, lake was pretty full and good shape and then kind of junior high, high school may be in worse shape.

Chris: I think the worst period, it was about when I was in middle school, so junior high school, like sixth grade to ninth grade I think is when it was really bad. And then I remember there being like one kind of winter-spring where we just got like a ton of rain, and when it was kind of right at the point when people were starting to be like, okay, if nothing changes, now we’re gonna have some serious repercussions. So we finally had like literally like an amazing rainstorm winter and spring and it filled it mostly up, I want to say today because they’ve gotten decent rain, it’s actually back to near full capacity if not at full capacity.

Interviewer: That was kind of how the same, that’s how the lakes in North Texas has been as well. Something interesting I thought is that I remember growing up as a kid in Texas and in the summer it was, you know, we get out of school and it was hot from then and then it was hot and we got back to school and now it seems that we get out of, you know, you would get out of school middle of May and it would rain for about a month and just rain consistently. So I think on the one hand the rain was good on the other hand, I remember like all these flash floods and stuff because the soil was already completely soaked and as soon as the rain, you know, all the stuff had happened.

Chris: Yeah, that was definitely a problem in Austin too, especially during the drought and then even after it a little bit is just the ground wasn’t used to seeing all the water. So then when we wouldn’t get any water at all, the ground was hard and so it just turned into these flash floods.

Interviewer: It’s pretty nuts. All right, well, thank you, Chris, I appreciate it. And thank you for listening. This was Chris Fernandez talking about a Lake Travis in Austin, Texas.

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