Lake Austin homeowners told to prepare as more floodgates may open

Lake Mansfield floodgates open on Oct. 17, 2018

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Lake Travis could rise to record levels and the Lower Colorado River Authority is warning homeowners along Lake Austin to start taking precautions.

On Wednesday, the staff for the LCRA said it will likely open up to eight gates at Mansfield Dam to relieve the amount of water coming into Lake Travis caused by floodgate operations upriver. On Thursday and Friday it said it will not open more dams, but could over the next few days.

Mitchell Johnson lives downstream and has already had a rough week. Sunday night he was in a motorcycle accident. Wednesday he learned the water along Lake Austin could be the highest its ever been. 

“I think about the dangers of the debris that’s coming down the lake as well as the damage it can do to not only our dock but everybody else’s dock,” said Johnson.

He spent the day raising his boat seven feet above his dock along the lake.

“It’s going to come here eventually. Lake Travis is full,” said Phil Wilson, the general manager of the LCRA, while pointing to screens showing floodgate operations in the organizations River Operations Center. Dozens of people work around the clock monitoring the levels and the flow from their central operations control just south of Tom Miller Dam. 

Wilson says they could open up to eight gates to hold the structural integrity of Mansfield Dam. He worried this is all happening with current water on the ground. There is more rain in the forecast.

The LCRA is now telling people along Lake Austin and Lady Bird Lake to prepare to save lives and property. 

“We’ve never been to eight before. The highest we’ve been to is six. That was in the ’50s. We’ve had four in 1991. So this is unprecedented even for us,” said Wilson. 

“It’s super scary. I’m just hoping that it doesn’t get that bad,” said Johnson, downstream from Mansfield Dam. 

As of Thursday afternoon, all seven manual floodgates are open at the Longhorn Dam, which contains Lady Bird Lake. 

Preparations further downstream on Lady Bird Lake

LCRA vice president on floodgate operations

At the edge of Lake Austin just before Tom Miller Dam sits a restaurant called Hula Hut. 

From their outdoor patio, you can see water rushing toward the dam where four gates were partially open Wednesday evening.

The dam is also undergoing renovations. 

Elias Chocalas, Assistant General Manager at Hula Hut said, “If we have to open all these, those are open, what’s the stress level on this dam?”

He said if the water rises, the restaurant still has a few feet of buffer. But he does wonder about the condition of the dam. “I mean there are safety concerns. I’m sure there are important people looking at it, and they know what it can and can’t do,” he said. 

Further downstream, the Texas Rowing Center was already closed Wednesday, partially under water. 

“We had a bunch of volunteers from the club come down and a bunch of workers,” said one of the coaches, Donald Jensen. “Our dock is able to rise up with the water about 28 or more feet, so we moved all of our equipment onto the dock or on to the trailer.”

He said “Hopefully they’ve been good about sequencing the dam, so it doesn’t flood too much more,”

Lake Travis climbed 21 feet from noon Tuesday to noon Wednesday and is more than 100 percent full. In the last week, more water has been captured in Lake Travis than the city of Austin typically uses in four years.

When floodgates at Mansfield Dam open, that water will head into Lake Austin. The Tom Miller Dam, which separates Lake Austin from Lady Bird Lake, has four gates partially open as of Wednesday morning.

There are a total of 24 gates on Mansfield Dam and 37 gates on Buchanan Dam, which currently has eight gates open.

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