Highland Lakes Watershed Ordinance

LCRA helps protect water quality around the Highland Lakes through the Highland Lakes Watershed Ordinance by regulating development to manage stormwater runoff. Stormwater runoff from development can contain pollutants such as sediment, oil and grease, pesticides, herbicides, and nutrients.

Read FAQs about stormwater management.

Why manage stormwater?

Stormwater runoff is considered the largest source of pollution in the Highland Lakes. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports pollution in stormwater runoff accounts for more than 98% of the fecal and total coliform bacteria, 90% of the sediment, 80% of the nitrogen, and more than half of the phosphorus entering the nation’s rivers and streams.

The impacts of stormwater runoff can be widespread and severe, including:

  • Siltation of creeks and reservoirs.
  • Reduced fish and wildlife habitat.
  • Increased growth of aquatic weeds.
  • Algal blooms and fish kills.
  • Reduced recreational opportunities because of bacterial contamination and increased turbidity.
  • Contamination of food and water sources.

What are the benefits of managing stormwater?

Managing pollution caused by stormwater runoff is far less expensive than correcting it after it has occurred. The benefits of managing stormwater runoff pollution include:

  • Expanded recreational and tourism opportunities — and economic growth.
  • Increased property values and tax base along the river, lakes and tributaries.
  • Increased productivity of range and farmland, as well as aquatic ecosystems.
  • Reduced water treatment costs.
  • Preservation of diverse wildlife habitat.
  • Prolonged viability of water storage reservoirs.

How does the ordinance reduce the impact of stormwater pollution?

The ordinance requires development to incorporate measures and best management practices to protect water quality and reduce creek erosion, including:

  • Approved water quality management facilities (vegetated filter strips and/or water quality basins) to collect stormwater runoff.
  • Buffer zones that remain free of development. Read the Property Owner’s Guide to Buffer Zones.
  • Temporary erosion and sediment controls.
  • Permanent systems to minimize sediment migration from the site.

LCRA also encourages using native and/or adapted plants and limiting the use of chemicals such as pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers on landscapes.

The ordinance applies to certain land modification activity within the Lake Travis watershed in Travis County, the Colorado River watershed in Burnet County and a portion of Llano County. See the Highland Lakes Watershed Ordinance boundaries map and inspector contact information. The ordinance applies to the construction of buildings, roads, paved storage areas and parking lots. It also applies to any land-disturbing and construction activities, including clearing vegetative cover, excavating, grading, contouring, mining, and depositing refuse, waste or fill.

Dredge and fill activities on the Highland Lakes fall under the Highland Lakes Dredge and Fill Ordinance.


Anyone who performs work that falls under the definition of a development, quarry/mine activity or utility construction must notify LCRA before beginning the work. If the work exceeds thresholds established by the ordinance, a permit is required. The property owner, developer or their designated representative may apply for the permit.

Required notifications and permits

  • No Permit Required notification: required for small development projects and quarry/mine activities located outside a creek buffer zone that may be authorized without a permit by submitting Notification of No Permit Required documents.
  • Development permit: required for development of land if impervious cover will exceed 10,000 square feet and/or if land disturbance will exceed 1 acre.
  • General utility permit: required for utility construction anywhere within the jurisdictional area, including all routine construction, maintenance and repair work.
  • Quarry or mine permit: required for activities that create more than 10,000 square feet of impervious cover or disturb more than 5 acres of land, and for all quarry and mine activities within a buffer zone of a creek or river. Read the fact sheet.
Read more about creating a free MyGovernmentOnline customer portal account to apply for permits, subdivision reviews and verification of permit exemptions; pay reinspection and plan revision fees; and submit plans, surveys and other documents. The application packet also can be downloaded and submitted in person at LCRA’s office at 3700 Lake Austin Blvd., or by mail to:

LCRA Water Quality
P.O. Box 220
Austin, TX 78767-0220

See the ordinance fee schedule and refund policy.

Interlocal agreements

LCRA has interlocal agreements with Austin, Bee Cave, City of Burnet, Cedar Park, Horseshoe Bay, Lago Vista, Lakeway, Marble Falls, Sunrise Beach Village, Travis County and Volente. The communities administer part or all of the ordinance. Please check with the local government to determine if a permit from LCRA is necessary.

Submit questions, comments or complaints through Contact LCRA. Read more information on the complaint process for this program. View 2023 complaint statistics.