Q: What are the Highland Lakes?
A: LCRA created this chain of reservoirs on the Colorado River northwest of Austin from 1935 to 1951 to provide a stable water supply for the basin, protect Austin and downstream communities from the worst effects of Hill Country floods, and generate hydroelectric power. The two largest reservoirs, Lakes Buchanan and Travis, store and supply water to meet household, agricultural, industrial and environmental needs throughout the basin. Lake Travis is also designed with extra capacity to hold floodwaters from Hill Country storms. The four smaller lakes pass through releases from Buchanan and Travis for downstream use.
Q: Who paid for the dams and lakes?
A: LCRA has no taxing authority. To build the dams and lakes, LCRA borrowed money from the federal government, then repaid the loans with revenues from its sales of electricity and water. The Highland Lakes generate revenue through sales of water and hydroelectricity, and this money is used to operate and maintain the dams, hydrogeneration units and lakes. See the history of LCRA.
Q: Why did LCRA build the dams?
A: Continuing cycles of flood and drought devastated property and inhibited the growth of Austin and other communities along the river. LCRA wasn't the first to try to harness the river to control floods and generate low-cost, reliable electricity. But earlier attempts to build dams that would withstand flooding failed, time and again. LCRA was the first with sufficient funding, legal authority, engineering skill, and political and community support to build a system of dams strong enough to last.
Q: How much water is in the lakes?
A: When lakes Travis and Buchanan are full, they hold nearly 2.01 million acre-feet of water. (An acre-foot equals about 326,000 gallons, enough water to supply an average suburban family of five for 18 months.) But Travis and Buchanan usually are not full. Depending on rainfall and water use, the amount of water stored in them can drop significantly in just a few months. Lakes Travis and Buchanan can fill up in a matter of hours or days during a flood. The pass-through lakes fluctuate, too, typically moving up and down slightly from one day to the next.
Q: Who owns the water in the lakes?
A: The State of Texas. LCRA manages the water for the people of Texas. The state issues water rights that allow the holder to use a specific amount of water each year from the river and lakes. LCRA holds the largest block of water rights in the Colorado River basin.
Q: Who owns the land around the lakes?
A: Most of the shoreline around the Highland Lakes is privately owned. LCRA owns 19 parks and recreation areas that occupy about 7,550 acres of land around the lakes, primarily Lake Travis.
Q: Who is in charge of the lakes?
A: LCRA manages the Highland Lakes and the lower Colorado River and operates the lakes to manage water supplies and floods. LCRA also manages recreational activities on the lakes (with the exception of Lake Austin, which is managed by the City of Austin because it is in the city's boundaries).
Q: I have a question or comment about recreational activities on Lake Austin or Lady Bird Lake.
A: The City of Austin has jurisdiction over these two lakes and sets any regulations or restrictions affecting recreation on these lakes. You can e-mail the City’s Parks and Recreation Department, or call the department at (512) 974-6700.
Q: Where can I find information about historical lake elevations for the Highland Lakes?
A: Check the historical lake levels page and download a spreadsheet for any of the Highland Lakes. Each spreadsheet contains minimum, maximum and average elevations for each month since LCRA began operating the lake.
Q: Where can I find maps of Lake Travis or the other Highland Lakes?
A: MAPSCO publishes a variety of maps of the upper Highland Lakes that are available at lake-area stores and marinas, or through MAPSCO’s Web site.
Q: What’s the difference between the “head” and “tail” elevation readings at a dam?
A: The “head” is the elevation of the water that is impounded behind a dam, and the “tail” is the water’s elevation in front of the dam. These two readings are elevations of two different lakes. At Mansfield Dam, for example, the “head” is the elevation of Lake Travis at the dam, while the “tail” reading reflects the elevation of Lake Austin in front of the dam. All readings are measured in feet above mean sea level.
Q: What do I need to do to build a dock on my waterfront property?
A: Owning lakefront property does not automatically entitle you to build a dock or other floating structures. You need to verify that you own the land that is submerged under the water. (This is possible, given the way in which some lands along the Highland Lakes have been subdivided and sold or resold.) If you’re not sure of the ownership, you can check with the property deeds filed with the county tax office. If the submerged land is owned by someone else, then you’ll need to get the landowner’s permission. Assuming the ownership issues are resolved, then you’ll need to work with LCRA to ensure your dock meets safety standards. Check LCRA's boat dock standards for more information.
Q: Does LCRA maintain any of the Highland Lakes at a constant level?
A: None of the Highland Lakes are “constant level.” All of the lakes fluctuate in elevation – especially lakes Travis and Buchanan, which are LCRA’s water-supply reservoirs.
Q: Are tours of the dams available to the general public?
A: At this time, LCRA is not scheduling public tours of the dams.
Q: When will Lake LBJ be refilled? A: The scheduled date to begin Lake LBJ refill is Feb. 25, with refill to be completed by Feb. 27. LCRA could refill the lake ahead of that schedule in the event of a weather- or power-related emergency. Check our Web site at www.lcra.org for updates.
Q: Are there leeches in Lake Travis this year? A: Yes, we have leeches this year in Lake Travis!
Leeches are actually fairly common in freshwater and many fishing lures attempt to imitate leeches. We have received several calls/inquiries this spring from folks encountering leeches after swimming in Lake Travis. Most others also made a comment about the abundance of filamentous algae. The vegetation likely acts as a refuge or hiding place for the leeches.
The leeches are not harmful. About the only worry would be from secondary infection from a "leech bite."
Here's a Texas A&M Web site with information about leeches. http://wildlife.tamu.edu/publications/a1101.pdf
Q: We have a home on the lake and would like to put a buoy or two out front for safety. What do we need to do? A: The LCRA Lakewide Authorization allows waterfront property owners on the Highland Lakes to install No Wake buoys 50 feet from their property without a permit. If you need further information you can email email@example.com.