Swimmer blames hydrilla for near drowning at Lake Pflugerville

Austin

After a man drowned in Lake Pflugerville this week, one west Travis County man wants to warn swimmers about the lake. 

Craig Kuglen, who has spent nearly 40 years of his life competing in triathlons, is an experienced swimmer.

But, two summers ago when he was participating in the Lake Pflugerville Triathlon, he had problems he never expected.

“I got caught in the hydrilla, and the more I tried to get out of it, the worse it got,” said Kuglen. “My arms got tangled, my feet got tangled and I got scared.”

The fast-growing invasive underwater plant had taken hold of him. Quickly, Kuglen yelled for help.

Luckily, he says triathlon organizers were standing by.

Initially, a kayak came to his rescue but unable to pull him up, Kuglen says organizers had to get a motorized boat to pull him out. 

He says he’s aware of the hydrilla in the lake, but he never expected that to happen because organizers clear a route for the race. However, Kuglen remembers having to move over a bit due to the number of people in the water and that’s when he got caught on the plant. 

“It was a fairly frightening experience for me,” he said. 

So when a man went missing underwater on Wednesday, he wondered:

“I bet he got caught in hydrilla and had the same problem I did,” he said. 

Authorities haven’t said what exactly happened. But, even the hydrilla caused problems for divers with the Travis County Sheriff’s Office during the search.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department says it monitors the lake and helps the city of Pflugerville manage it.

The city also removes hydrilla mechanically, something some visitors have noticed. 

“They come out here with some big old water-type lawn mowers and they chop that stuff up,” said Jason Machado, who visits the lake every Friday. 

Despite that, Kuglen says he’s not taking any chances and doesn’t plan to participate in the Lake Pflugerville Triathlon again. 

“I won’t go back there and swim again,” he said. 

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is discussing new techniques with the city, including chemical treatment, to keep the hydrilla under control.

The Lake Pflugerville Triathlon is set for June 17.

Lake Pflugerville was completed in 2006 to serve the long term water needs of Pflugerville. Water for the lake comes from the Colorado River through a contract with the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA). When hydrilla was identified in Lake Pflugerville in 2009, the city of Pflugerville partnered with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD). TPWD and the city assessed an appropriate level of mitigation of the hydrilla, which is an invasive species. Some aquatic vegetation is beneficial to the lake as it improves water quality and ecological life, but the hydrilla must be managed to balance with various recreational uses of the lake. The city of Pflugerville has an ongoing partnership with TPWD to annually evaluate ecological conditions at the lake. – City of Pflugerville

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