Tag Archives: lake travis

Trash and Treasure at the Lake Travis Underwater and Shoreline Cleanup

Volunteer divers hauling up trash from Lake Travis (Is that part of a house?)

Volunteer divers hauling up trash from Lake Travis (Is that part of a house?)

I had a chance to be part of the Lake Travis Underwater and Shoreline Cleanup event earlier this month, and you’d be surprised what the cleanup volunteers found!

Ms. Sarah Richards, Executive Director, and Mr. Geoff Hensgen, Program Director, of the Colorado River Alliance invited me to be part of the press boat for the event, and what an exciting honor it was!

Commander Ben and Sarah Richards on the marina dock getting ready to board the press boat.

Commander Ben and Sarah Richards on the marina dock getting ready to board the press boat.

Divers near Starnes Island

One of the many boats with divers near Starnes Island for the Lake Travis underwater cleanup

One of the many boats with divers near Starnes Island for the Lake Travis underwater cleanup

Our press boat left early in the morning from a nearby marina and traveled to Starnes Island on Lake Travis, where scuba divers were hauling up trash from underwater and storing the trash in orange nylon bags. It was surprisingly cool in the morning. We had rain and colder weather (for September in Texas!) leading up to the event, and volunteers said it was one of the cooler cleanups that they remembered being part of.

Volunteers met for the clean up at different spots around Lake Travis, including shoreline clean up sites near Pace Bend and Tom Hughes Parks and dive locations near Arkansas Park and Cypress Creek Cove. Approximately 1000 shoreline volunteers and scuba divers took part in this event. Wow!

The divers could see about 15 feet below the surface of the water, and with the low water levels because of the Texas drought, they were able to find trash at depths that would normally be harder to see in.

Map of the 2014 Lake Travis Underwater and Shoreline Cleanup locations (Map credit: Colorado River Alliance)

Map of the 2014 Lake Travis Underwater and Shoreline Cleanup locations (Map credit: Colorado River Alliance)

At the intersection of a inlet to Sandy Creek Park from Lake Travis, Starnes Island is only accessible by boat, and it was a critical clean up site since many party boats dock near this island and throw their trash overboard (ugh!). The scuba divers brought up bags and bags of trash, and boats would bring the trash over to the Lake Travis Marina where it was collected and hauled away for proper disposal.

Lake Travis Cleanup press boat crew outside of the Hudson Bend collection site

Lake Travis Cleanup press boat crew outside of the Hudson Bend collection site

I talked with Ms. Shaun Marie Auckland, Conservation Coordinator for Travis County Parks, who said Travis County became involved in 1994 to provide volunteers with access to the parks and to help scuba divers dispose of trash with trash barges.

Packed volunteer event at the Oasis

The Lake Travis Cleanup volunteer party at the Oasis was packed!

The Lake Travis Cleanup volunteer party at the Oasis was packed!

After the clean up, the volunteers celebrated with food, drinks, and door prizes at the Oasis restaurant overlooking Lake Travis. There were many educational booths for kids of all ages about Lake Travis, the aquatic food chain, water quality, and more.

Some of the Colorado River Alliance educational materials

Some of the Colorado River Alliance educational materials

Colorado River Alliance volunteers talking about the ecological water food web

Colorado River Alliance volunteers talking about the ecological water food web

Commander Ben and Colorado River Alliance education volunteers give a thumbs up to this year's Lake Travis Cleanup event

Commander Ben and Colorado River Alliance education volunteers give a thumbs up to this year’s Lake Travis Cleanup event

I enjoyed hamburgers, chips, and iced tea with volunteers at the party after the event, and I sat with volunteers who were cleaning up around the low water crossing below Mansfield Dam.

From volunteer Dean Woodley, I learned that the concrete structures on the Sometimes Islands were part of the materials that were used to build Mansfield Dam. The blocks were likely the base of tall pulleys that were used to haul material down to the dam. (I wonder if they were like Archimedes’ pulleys that I’m learning about in my World History high school class.)

Commander Ben and volunteer Dean Woodley at the Lake Travis Cleanup Volunteer Party at the Oasis restaurant

Commander Ben and volunteer Dean Woodley at the Lake Travis Cleanup Volunteer Party at the Oasis restaurant

Commander Ben and Finley the Fish overlooking the Sometimes Islands on Lake Travis

Commander Ben and Finley the Fish overlooking the Sometimes Islands on Lake Travis

During the volunteer party, the event organizers showed some of the unusual items the volunteers brought in, including sunglasses and a pink flamingo. I heard that someone also found an iPhone (not working – no surprise), and at a past event, they even found an old car motor.

Some of the unusual underwater Lake Travis Cleanup items found (is that a catfish skeleton?)

Some of the unusual underwater Lake Travis Cleanup items found (is that a catfish skeleton?)

Some of the unique objects found by Lake Travis Cleanup volunteers

Some of the unique objects found by Lake Travis Cleanup volunteers

For this year’s event, they announced the winner of the most unusual clean up item: a plastic bottle with a note in it. The note was a reward for a missing wedding ring. Hope someone found it!

TV coverage of the event

Getting ready to hop back on the press boat from Starnes Island with KVUE cameraman J.P.

Getting ready to hop back on the press boat from Starnes Island with KVUE cameraman J.P.

As part of our press boat, I met J.P., a friendly cameraman from KVUE who shared his experiences filming many events around Austin. I also saw the KTBC camera crew covering the event during the after party at the Oasis.

Sarah Richards being interviewed by KVUE about the Lake Travis Cleanup event

Sarah Richards being interviewed by KVUE about the Lake Travis Cleanup event

Science activities for primary and middle schoolers

Bringing the River to Our Schools mobile museum (Image credit: Colorado River Alliance)

Bringing the River to Our Schools mobile museum (Image credit: Colorado River Alliance)

During the school year, the Colorado River Alliance has educational activities for primary and middle schoolers. Kids in grades 3-5 can take field trips to LCRA building near Red Bud Island on Lady Bird Lake for hands-on activities to learn about water, wetlands, geography, and more.

The Colorado River Alliance also created the Bringing the River to Our Schools mobile museum to give 7th graders a high quality STEM experience and to educate the next generation of water stewards.

These are great programs for young naturalists and remind me of my science classes. I loved learning about biology in my freshman year in high school. This year, I’m learning about chemistry, and we’re going over the structure of the atom in class right now.

Celebrating 20 years of Lake Travis Cleanup volunteers

Lake Travis Underwater and Shoreline Cleanup celebrates 20 years!

Lake Travis Underwater and Shoreline Cleanup celebrates 20 years!

The Lake Travis Underwater and Shoreline Cleanup started in 1994, and on September 14, 2014, celebrated 20 years of helping to clean Lake Travis, a vital water supply for the people and animals of Central Texas. Next year, the 21st annual event will be on September 13, 2015.

This year’s successful volunteer event was organized by the Colorado River Alliance, Keep Austin Beautiful, and Travis County Parks.

Commander Ben and Geoff Hensgen at the Lake Travis Cleanup volunteer party

Commander Ben and Geoff Hensgen at the Lake Travis Cleanup volunteer party

Thanks again Ms. Richards and Mr. Hensgen for inviting me to be part of your wonderful event. How great it was to see so many enthusiastic volunteers, both above and below the water, helping to keep our native ecosystem clean!

Your friend,
Ben

1 Comment

Filed under Colorado River Alliance, Geoff Hensgen, Lake Travis, Lake Travis Underwater and Shoreline Cleanup

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,
Ben

3 Comments

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

Rasberry crazy ants establish beachhead in Central Texas

Rasberry crazy ant invasive species poster at the 2011 Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Conference

In this Saturday’s Austin American Statesman newspaper, I was shocked to see that Rasberry crazy ants were found in Central Texas!

Less than six month ago, in November 2011, I interviewed Dr. Jerry Cook, Associate Vice President of Sam Houston State University, at the 2011 Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Conference.

During the first half of my video interview with Dr. Cook, he talked about his new Institute for the Study of Invasive Species. Afterwards, I asked him to tell me about the invasive species that he found the most interesting. He said he does a lot of work on ants and that he studied the red imported fire ants, but that his current favorite to work on was the Rasberry crazy ant (Nylanderia sp. near pubens).

At the time, he said that there were no sightings of crazy ants in Central Texas, but he predicted that they would be coming.

Sadly, in the back of my mind, I knew they were on the march and would be here one day. Yet, I was still surprised that it was so soon.

Stronger than fire ants?

The newspaper article said that the crazy ants were in a condominium in Briarcliff along the shores of Lake Travis, and they probably came from gardening material from Houston, where they were first found by a pest control man, Tom Rasberry, in 2002. (They named the ant after him.)

The ant probably came to Texas from South America, and Dr. Cook said they’re called crazy ants because they move around very quickly and erratically, moving here or there.

They can take over areas from fire ants, which may sound good, but they come in such massive numbers that they can overwhelm and suffocate wildlife, damage electrical systems, and make houses unlivable.

With so many and being so fast and numerous, they are hard to eradicate.

The news of crazy ants coming to Central Texas, so close to my own home, shows the importance of educating people about invasive species and preventing their spread.

Now that they are here, they’ll be very difficult to get rid of. 😦

Your friend,
Commander Ben

P.S. Learn more about the Rasberry crazy ants:

Leave a comment

Filed under 2011 Texas Invasive Plant Conference, Austin American Statesman, Fire ants, Institute for the Study of Invasive Species (ISIS), Jerry Cook, Lake Travis, Rasberry Crazy ant, Texas Invasives

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

2 Comments

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!

1 Comment

Filed under Colorado River, Lake Travis, Texas Drought