Category Archives: Texas Drought

Lower Lake Travis Water Levels Reveal Secrets and Trash Too

Map of Lake Travis Sometimes Islands and Mansfield Dam (Image credit: LCRA)

Map of Lake Travis Sometimes Islands and Mansfield Dam (Image credit: LCRA)

A few years ago, I created a a video about my journey to the Sometimes Islands on Lake Travis, near Austin, Texas. These islands are only visible when the lake waters are low, such as during the terrible drought that we’ve been having. You shouldn’t be able to walk to these islands from Mansfield Dam Park, but I did.

How has the Lake Travis water level changed?

Lake Travis is considered full at 681 feet above sea level. Here are the historic high and low lake water levels:

  • December 25, 1991, was the historic high at 710.4 feet (+29.4 feet above full)
  • August 14, 1951, was the historic low at 614.2 feet (-66.8 feet below full)

Water level when I made the Terrible Texas Drought Reveals Sometimes Islands on Lake Travis video:

  • November 2011 average was 626.52 feet (-54.48 below full).

Water level today:

  • September 13, 2014, shows a water level of 622.97 feet (-58.03 feet below full)

Wow! The water level is -3.55 feet lower now than when I made my video in the fall of 2011. We rely on Lake Travis for our drinking water in Central Texas, and the lake is only 33% full!

Lake Travis Underwater and Shoreline Cleanup

Lake Travis Underwater and Shoreline Cleanup (Image credit: Keep Austin Beautiful)

Lake Travis Underwater and Shoreline Cleanup (Image credit: Keep Austin Beautiful)

The lower lake levels reveal a lot about Lake Travis, including tree stumps from submerged forests and structures that used to be hidden underwater. I also saw a lot of pioneer plants that started growing on the islands. Unfortunately, I saw a lot of trash too.

Thankfully, the Colorado River Alliance, Keep Austin Beautiful, and Travis County Parks have been organizing volunteers for 20 years to help clean up Lake Travis, both above and below the water.

Their Lake Travis Underwater and Shoreline Cleanup 2014 event is tomorrow, Sunday, September 14, 2014, and there’s still time to register to be an underwater or shoreline volunteer at the Keep Austin Beautiful website.

You’ll make a difference to our native ecosystem (an average of 5 tons of trash are cleaned up each year!) and they have a fantastic Thank You party with free t-shirts, food, and door prizes at the Oasis afterwards. It’s a great event for all ages!

Your friend,


Filed under Colorado River Alliance, Keep Austin Beautiful, Lake Travis, Lake Travis Underwater and Shoreline Cleanup, Sometimes Islands, Texas Drought, Travis County Parks

Last Call at the Oasis: Interview series with Dr. Jay Famiglietti

I had a great opportunity to talk with Dr. Jay Famiglietti about the water concerns that we face across the United States, about his work with the GRACE satellite mission, and about the 2012 film featuring him, Last Call at the Oasis. (It’s coming out tomorrow, November 6, 2012, on DVD and BlueRay!)

Dr. Famiglietti visited UT Austin on October 26, 2012, to give his “Last Call at the Oasis: Will There be Enough Water for the 21st Century?” talk as part of the awesome Hot Science – Cool Talks series, presented by the UT Austin Environmental Science Institute. Dr. Famiglietti is a Professor of Hydrology with the Earth System Sciences Department at the University of California – Irvine.

I published my video interview with Dr. Famiglietti in five parts with cool graphics from NASA and the United States Geological Survey (USGS). Click on the videos below to learn more about our water crisis that we face and ways that we, especially kids, can conserve water.

(1) Why the GRACE satellite mission is so cool

The GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) satellites launched in March 2002. Learn about the valuable data these twin satellites provide along with insight that hydrologic modeling brings with Dr. Famiglietti.

(2) Dramatic Water Depletion in California and the United States

California’s Central Valley and the High Plains Aquifer in the central United States show high rates of water depletion. Dr. Jay Famiglietti talks about these areas of concern and ways that we could improve measuring our water supply.

(3) Quest for More Freshwater

If we found a way to have unlimited fresh water, would there be a population boom?What technological breakthrough do we need to transform sea water to fresh water easily and affordably? Learn about the water, energy, and food nexus with Dr. Famiglietti.

(4) What Can Kids Do to Save Water?

Saving water begins with becoming aware of your water use. Learn about Dr. Famiglietti’s easy tips to help kids save water. You’ll find that saving energy also helps save water too.

(5) Last Call at the Oasis with Dr. Jay Famiglietti

Dr. Famiglietti talks about the declining snowfall on the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the DVD and BlueRay release of his “Last Call at the Oasis” movie. You’ll also be surprised to learn about his favorite water sport.

My injured hand from taekwondo sparring has slowed me down 😦 , but I’m almost done with my post about the great time that I had during the Dr. Famiglietti’s Hot Science – Cool Talks event and the prelecture fun! 🙂

Thanks for the great interview, Dr. Famiglietti, and my wonderful thanks too to Dr. Jay Banner, Director of the UT Austin Environmental Science Institute (ESI); and Mr. Geoff Hensgen, ESI Outreach Coordinator, for the time to talk with Dr. Famiglietti!

Your friend,

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Filed under California Central Valley, Desalinization, Dr. Jay Famiglietti, drought, Environmental Science Institute, ESI, freshwater, Geoff Hensgen, GRACE, Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment, High Plains Aquifer, Hot Science - Cool Talks, Hydrologic modeling, Jay Banner, Last Call at the Oasis, NASA, Sierra Nevada Mountains, Tae Kwon Do, Taekwondo, Texas Drought, United States Geological Survey, University of Texas, USGS, UT Austin, water, water conservation, water hydrology

Whirlpool Springs to Life in Onion Creek above Cripple Crawfish Cave

Commander Ben near the Cripple Crawfish Cave whirlpool in Onion Creek

As part of National Ground Water Awareness Week earlier this month, the City of Austin’s Wildland Conservation Division scheduled a “wonderful whirlpool” hike along Onion Creek.

What a fantastic place and what a rare treat to see so much green vegetation and water. We’ve been under a terrible drought in Texas. (The water level on Lake Travis dropped so low that I was able to walk to the sometimes islands late last year. These islands are normally submerged when the Highland Lakes are full.)

We’ve been blessed with recent rains. The rainwater has given life back to our land, lakes, and creeks. I hope that we keep getting more rain.

Karst features help recharge the Edwards Aquifer

The Orr Track on Onion Creek is part of the Barton Springs recharge segment of the Edwards Aquifer. Water that falls on the savannah and prairie land in this area flows through karst features to reach the aquifer underneath.

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) in the air and water (H20) combine to create carbonic acid H2CO3. This acid eats the calcite in the limestone under the soil to create the karst features, and these features consists of big and small cracks and caves under the surface.

Slowly draining karst feature near Onion Creek

Because of our recent rains, there’s water on the surface, but it’s slowly draining underground with the small cracks in this karst.

Dry karst feature with flint rocks

This karst feature has bigger cracks, which causes it to drain faster. There’s no standing water here, but there’s lots of flint. Dr. Kevin Thuesen, Environmental Conservation Program Manager, helped to lead our hike, and he said that there’s evidence of native Americas in this area who have tried out the different pieces of flint to see if any would be good to use.

(I had a chance to try out flintknapping and other great nature activities at the Wild Basin Preserve a few months ago.)

Karst feature with a huge draining crack

This karst feature has a huge crack to help water drain quickly to the aquifer. No standing water here.

Watch out for the rattlesnakes

We saw a few rattlesnakes on our hike, and Dr. Thuesen cautioned us to watch out for them. When the snake started rattling as I walked by, my heart jumped!

This one was near the karst feature with the huge crack, and it was very hard to see at first. (Can you spot the rattlesnake in this picture?)

No snake in this picture, but here’s evidence of feral hogs. They were digging for food (grubs?) in this area earlier. They’re omnivores and will eat just about anything.

Wonderful whirlpool!

Cripple Crawfish Cave Whirlpool in Onion Creek

The treat at the far end of the hike was the whirlpool that flows into Cripple Crawfish Cave (another karst feature!) in Onion Creek. They haven’t seen water in the creek for about a year, so this was a special occasion.

Dr. Thuesen said that they installed a screen over the cave opening to keep out debris and to help water flow more easily into the cave and eventually into the aquifer. Scientists have used a special dye to discover that water that flows down this whirlpool can reach Barton Springs Pool in about 22 days or so.

I’ve only seen a whirlpool in my bathtub before. It was great to see a real one in nature!

Thanks for the great hike!

Ms. Amanda Ross, Commander Ben, and Dr. Kevin Thuesen and the end of our wonderful whirlpool hike

Thank you Ms. Amanda Ross, Conservation Program Coordinator, Dr. Thuesen, and the other knowledgeable guides for the fantastic hike!

Ms. Ross has always been kind and helpful, and she had some neat posters. (I first met Ms. Ross when I learned about rare Texas plants and took a tour of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve.)

I enjoyed talking with Dr. Thuesen about the different rattlesnakes. He also knew a lot about invasive plants and talked with me about some of the ones in the area, including the Malta star-thistle and King Ranch Bluestem (KR Bluestem).

Don’t miss these wonderful hikes to learn about the native ecosystems of Central Texas. Check out the latest events on the City of Austin’s Wildland Conservation Division event page and be sure to join their email list to learn about upcoming events.

Commander Ben signing off


Filed under Austin Water Utility's Wildland Conservation Division, Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, City of Austin, City of Austin Wildland Conservation Division, City of Austin’s Wildland Conservation Division, Cripple Crawfish Cave, Dr. Kevin Thuesen, Edwards Aquifer, Flintknapping, Karst features, King Ranch Bluestem, KR Bluestem, Lake Travis, Malta star-thistle, Ms. Amanda Ross, Onion Creek, Rattlesnakes, Texas Drought, Texas Invasives, Whirlpool

Terrible Texas Drought Reveals Sometimes Islands on Lake Travis

Join my expedition to the Sometimes Islands on Lake Travis. I shouldn’t be able to get here, but the Texas drought of 2011 revealed and created a land bridge to the islands. Find out the ruins and treasures that I discovered, and get a glimpse at what the Colorado River may have looked like before Mansfield Dam was built near Austin, Texas.

Learn more about the drought and its effects on our parks and environment with my other video, Texas Drought 2011 Scorches McKinney Falls State Park.

Commander Ben signing off…and saying farewell to 2011…and hopefully good-bye this terrible Texas drought too!

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Filed under Colorado River, Lake Travis, Texas Drought

Texas Drought 2011 Scorches McKinney Falls State Park

Join Commander Ben as he shows the terrible affects of the Texas drought of 2011 on one of central Texas’ natural beauties, McKinney Falls State Park.

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Filed under McKinney Falls State Park, Texas Drought, Video