Travis County, Texas (KXAN) — Just as the sun rose over Lake Travis Sunday, 1,200 volunteers made their way to the lake — many of them with red trash bags, tanks, and masks in hand.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Lake Travis Cleanup. The event, which started off as a group of concerned local divers and scuba shops, has blossomed into the largest scuba and shoreline cleanup event in the state of Texas.
The Colorado River Alliance, a local nonprofit, and Travis County Parks work together tho put this event on each year with the help of Central Texas boating and scuba companies.
“This lake is incredibly important to Austin and the greater Austin area, so we want to make sure it stays clean,” explained Scott Sticker, director of outreach and operations for the Colorado River Alliance.
Sticker noted that this year the event had a record number of volunteers, including 600 divers, 500 people walking the shoreline picking up trash and 100 people helping coordinate the event.
The divers were taken out on boats typically used as party barges. Each diver filled a red trash bag with the items they recovered from inside the lake.
Much of the trash that was collected consisted of bottles and cans, the likely leftovers from people who were partying on the lake but neglected to dispose of their cans of White Claw and six-packs of beer properly.
But divers also found things like socks, scrunchies, a submerged jet ski, sunglasses, forgotten fishing rods, and even a complete set of dominoes on the bottom of the lake.
The award this year for the “most unusual object found” was a wedding band with lots of diamonds on it. This ring was found at Volente beach.
“We haven’t gotten it appraised yet, but it’s shiny,” said Sticker.
In previous years, the teams haul out around five tons worth of trash from the lake. KXAN is still awaiting the final tally from this year’s event.
Sticker noted that this year in particular, many people in the Austin area have heightened focus on the water quality and water systems nearby.
“We had those flood events last year, and the water boil notice that went out, and the zebra mussels and the blue-green algae, water is on everyone’s minds right now,” Sticker said. (And no, in case you were wondering, Lake Travis does not appear to be impacted by green-blue algae in the same way Lady Bird Lake has in Austin. Austin Water monitors algae levels on Lake Travis and has not seen levels of concern for drinking water).
One of the City of Austin’s three water treatment plants draws water from Lake Travis.
“Lake Travis here isn’t just a source of drinking water though, it’s also flood protection for us, it’s also where we bring our kids on the weekends, it’s a really really important part of our community, so it’s important that we keep it clean,” he said.
Sticker noted those on the water will likely be seeing more zebra mussels — the invasive species that has spread across Texas over the past decade, which reproduce quickly and can cause expensive damage.
Zebra mussels were first confirmed in Lake Travis in July 2017.