STAFF WRITER JARED FIELDS
The most significant flood since the dams were built on the Colorado River hit the Highland Lakes in October 2018. In that month alone, inflows of 1.3 million acre-feet of water were measured in the Highland Lakes chain. Lake Travis, when full, holds just more than 1.1 million acre-feet of water.
As John Hofmann, Lower Colorado River Authority executive vice president of water recently put it to Marble Falls City Council, that’s the equivalent of eight Lake LBJs passing through the lake. Four lakes’ worth passed through in a 24-hour period.
Almost four months later, Highland Lakes residents, communities, and agencies continue to deal with the aftermath of the October flood.
Since then, debris cleanup from that devastating flood has been the most-debated issue. On Feb. 14, the LCRA announced actions to address debris and safety on Lake LBJ.
The LCRA’s actions include:
• Following the refill of Lake LBJ from Feb. 24-27, LCRA crews will assess conditions and mark or, where possible, remove navigational hazards in the main body of the lake. Debris on the shoreline and on private property continues to be the responsibility of the property owner.
• LCRA will designate the entire lake a nighttime no-wake zone following the refill of the lake. By law, “nighttime” is defined as from 30 minutes after sundown to 30 minutes before sunrise. Violation of the no-wake requirement is a Class C misdemeanor. The nighttime no-wake speed limit will be in force until further notice.
• LCRA will mark the river channel through Lake LBJ with buoys from the confluence of the Llano and Colorado rivers downstream to Wirtz Dam, a distance of about 12 miles. The markers will include solar-powered lights to guide boaters at night.
• LCRA will post signs at public boat ramps alerting visitors to use extreme caution on the lake. LCRA also will offer free warning signs to marinas and local property owners’ associations with boat ramps.
• Effective immediately, the public may report unmarked hazards to AskLCRA@lcra.org. The report should include a detailed description of the object and the location and a photo, if possible. LCRA’s Water Surface Management team will investigate all reports and take appropriate action to address corroborated hazards.
• LCRA will remove abandoned flood-damaged docks from the lake.
“We are taking these actions to further enhance public safety,” said Phil Wilson, LCRA general manager, in a statement. “Anyone on the lake should use caution and their best judgment. This flood fundamentally altered the look, feel, and topography of the Colorado River through the Highland Lakes. This is the nature of life on the river and is part of the river’s natural cycle.”
Burnet County Judge James Oakley said he was glad to see the LCRA’s actions.
“That’s good they’re taking more of a stronger position on this,” Oakley said. “I’m glad to see them stepping up to the plate.”
The Feb. 14 announcement is a shift from Hofmann’s statements Feb. 5 to the Marble Falls City Council. There, Hofmann said the responsibility of removing debris was delegated to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
“We are going to support and have been in communication with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and their attempts to be able to try to get money for this endeavor,” Hofmann said Feb. 5. “They have had language in the Texas Water Code that gives them this responsibility, but they have not, up until this point, been given the money to actually fulfill the responsibilities. So we will be supporting them in their attempts to be able to get that.”
The TCEQ, according to the Texas Water Code, is charged to investigate natural obstructions in navigable streams.
TCEQ Media Relations Specialist Brian McGovern wrote in a statement:
“Dredging, maintenance, and debris removal from rivers and lakes is typically addressed through the jurisdictional authorities over the rivers or reservoirs, or flood control districts. No one state agency has complete authority over dredging or the removal of debris from rivers, streams, reservoirs or tidal waters of the state.”
If TCEQ determines a natural obstruction is creating a hazard, it will initiate action. According to the water code, “in removing an obstruction, the commission may solicit the assistance of federal and state agencies including the Corps of Engineers, Texas National Guard, the Parks and Wildlife Department, and districts and authorities created under Article III, Sections 52(b)(1) and (2), or Article XVI, Section 59, of the Texas Constitution.”
McGovern said the TCEQ’s determination is based on “whether the natural obstruction has caused, or is threatening to cause, structural damage or public safety issues to a bridge, roadway or other critical infrastructure.”
Hofmann said on Feb. 5 that “a lot of other people” are trying to find funding during the current legislative session for TCEQ to remove flood debris and sediment all over Texas waterways from Hurricane Harvey to flooding such as what the Highland Lakes experienced.
“This is not something that Texas is ever going to get away from,” Hofmann said.
TCEQ policy is not to comment on pending legislation.
According to the Highland Lakes Crisis Network, the flood damaged or destroyed more than 1,000 homes along the Llano and Colorado rivers in Burnet and Llano counties.
Llano County approved a $1 million expenditure for flood debris removal on Jan. 28.
More information about the lake lowerings schedule on lakes LBJ and Marble Falls can be found on the LCRA’s dedicated Lake Lowerings webpage at lcra.org/lakelowerings.