As boats get stuck on Lake LBJ sandbar, worries escalate for tourism

Hill Country

KINGSLAND, Texas (KXAN) — Reports of several boats getting stuck on a sandbar at Lake LBJ have people who live around the lake worried about safety for boaters who travel there during Spring Break and summertime.

The area is at the convergence of the Llano River and the Colorado River, and people living on the lake fear that the sandbar will only compound the risks created by leftover debris from historic flooding in October. 

Shane Booth sent in a photo to KXAN of one incident he witnessed on March 8 there. 

A boat stuck on the sand bar in the middle of Lake LBJ near the confluence of the Colorado River and the Llano River. Photo taken March 8 by Shane Booth. 

Mike Merritt, who can see this sandbar from his property says he’s watched as two boats got stranded there recently.

“They were coming around and weren’t paying a whole lot of attention and saw one buoy and crrrrackkk!” Merritt recalled. “All of a sudden they’re out of the water.”

“Island:2  boats: 0,” he laughed. 

Merritt has lived on Lake LBJ since the early 1970s and this is the first time he’s seen this happen. 

Darin McNelis who lives on Lake Marble Falls, stopped by a lookout point over Lake LBJ on Wednesday to see the island for himself. McNelis used to have a house on Lake LBJ as well.

“We’ve heard at least three boats pulled up on it inadvertently,” McNelis said, noting that he heard someone was injured in the process.

“Which is highly predictable,” he said. “Things have moved around out here, dirt and soil and docks and materials, it’s very dangerous and if people don’t know what they’re doing, they need to be very careful.”

He also worries about this area because it is downstream from the  2900 bridge in Kingsland which collapsed in the October flooding. Could parts of that bridge be part of that sandbar now, he wonders? 

In December, the LCRA lowered Lake LBJ to give property owners a chance to clean up debris from the flooding. In late February, the LCRA raised lake levels there, saying it was necessary for both the LCRA and the Texas Department of Transportation to finish repairing the 2900 bridge and start picking up debris on barges. 

Before the lake levels were raised, this sandbar was totally visible. Now it is obscured, visible from a look-out-point up above, but harder to see for those actually boating. 

The LCRA says it has no plans to remove the sandbar. 

The organization has installed buoys around the sandbar which are solar-powered and visible at night. They’ve also installed buoys to mark the main channel of Lake LBJ  to keep boats away from shallow areas and the shore. 

Additionally, the LCRA has designated all of Lake LBJ a no-wake zone (boats must slow down) from dusk until dawn — violators face a Class C misdemeanor. 

“Just as drivers need to know the meaning of various road signs, boaters should familiarize themselves with the meaning of various buoys markers before they go out on a body of water,” said Clara Tuma, the public information officer for the LCRA.

She explained that boaters who get stuck up on the sandbar are responsible for getting their boats un-stuck. 

The LCRA says the island is a well-known navigational hazard on the lake and admits that recent flooding made the island a little larger. 

People who live on the lake tell KXAN they first started noticing the sandbar after the flooding of 1997, but they believe this most recent round of flooding increased its size significantly. 

On Thursday, several groups of people came by in boats to play on the sandbar, running around on the shallow stretches. 

Mike Merritt explained the shallow water around the sandbar concerns him even more than its increase in size. 

“It used to be two-foot deep to four foot — even six foot deep around the edges, and now you can see where they’re walking out there, it’s probably ankle-deep which is maybe a foot.” 

“They’re not worried much about that much safety,” he said of the LCRA. “Because they’re not putting enough buoys around that.”

Merritt thinks the LCRA should add at least eight more buoys around the island because he sees many boats that don’t notice the buoys. He also thinks the LCRA should have buoys marking both sides of the channel rather than just on one side. 

McNelis says he is worried that the flooding debris which remains in the water will cause additional safety risks for boaters, especially for people who are unfamiliar with the waters. 

McNelis actually had new debris float on to this Lake Marble Falls property this week, and fears that it will be difficult for property owners to clean it all up in time if they don’t get assistance. But he added that Lake Marble Falls has an advantage: the lake levels are still lowered there. 

“Now that the lake is back up — LBJ anyway — it takes an expert to get things out of the water now,” he said.

The LCRA says they won’t pick up any debris that’s on private property. But they say they will investigate each report of debris that poses a navigational hazard, if you see concerning debris, you’re encouraged to report it to: AskLCRA@lcra.org.

Since the lake levels have been raised at LBJ, LCRA has removed things like boat docks, trees, and parts of boats from the water. 

McNelis wondered if the state government could step in to help with clean up too. 

In the meantime, he’s hoping the people on the water watch where they’re boating. 

“If you’re from Dallas or Houston or out of state and you’re over here, you need to be careful. It’s safe only if you’re very very careful. It’s not deadly if you’re careful, but you know how Spring Breakers are. If you’re out at night and you’re having a few cocktails I would not recommend it. Be careful, be very very careful on the lake it’s not the same like it was.”

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