Llano battles algae and low water levels with dredging of Town Lake

An area just east of the Texas 16 bridge over Town Lake in Llano demonstrates the lack of inflows from the river. The depth of Town Lake currently averages from 3-5 feet because of drought conditions. City officials launched a dredging project to ease the toll on the municipal water system and aquatic habitat. Staff photo by Jared Fields

CONNIE SWINNEY • PICAYUNE STAFF

LLANO — For several decades, Terry Jackson has watched the ebb and flow of Town Lake on the Llano River. But this year, dwindling water levels have reached even more damaging depths — not only for fish habitat but for the municipal water system.

“I used to hunt in the Castell area. I’ve seen the lake off and on for the last 30 years,” said Jackson, owner of Chanas Aggregates, a Llano County-based dredging company. “Overall, the surface looks the same, but it’s the depth, that’s the main thing. Normally, that lake should be 15 to 20 feet deep in places. The overall depth is averaging 3 to 5 feet.”

For the second year, city officials have contracted with Chanas for a $50,000 project to remove about 50,000 tons of sand, gravel and algae sludge from the waterway to improve the conditions caused by the drought, officials say.

“It’s become a sludge situation and real shallow water,” Mayor Mike Virdell said. “We have no fish behind our dam right now. The stuff (algae) that is growing in our river is sapping the oxygen out of our water. We fight (the algae and dwindling levels.) It’s going into our intake system. It’s a maintenance situation.”

The city is scheduled to lower the lake in January as dredging crews descend on the southside of the river near the west end of Badu Park with industrial-size excavation equipment to remove what amounts to about 2,000 18-wheeler tractor loads of material, according to calculations by the dredging company.

“The critics say it doesn’t do any good, but they have no concept of what else is included when you take that sand out of the river,” Virdell said. “It makes the river deeper. It will create more oxygen. It will keep the fish life in the river. It will make the water cleaner as it goes into the intake. We’ll be using less chemicals to clean the water.”

Last year, the company worked on the southside of the river.

“If we had been doing this for the last 20 years like (the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) and (the Lower Colorado River Authority) highly recommended, we wouldn’t have the problems we have right now, cleaning our water with no oxygen in it,” Virdell said. “This water is the most crucial thing we have, and we’ve got to start taking care and maintaining that river.”

connie@thepicayune.com

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