Lake Austin Information:
The 1,599 surface acre Lake Austin, one of the Colorado River’s 7 Highland Lakes, is absolutely beautiful with its tree covered hills, stunning lake side houses, and the often photographed Pennybacker (Loop 360) bridge. The lake is narrow, like a river. It has a maximum depth of 75 feet, and remains at a constant level except during the times in February when the lake is lowered so lakeside residents can repair their boat docks. The lake was first impounded as Lake McDonald in 1893 when the City of Austin completed the construction of the Austin Dam across the Colorado River at the location of the current Tom Miller Dam. This dam was referred to as “The Great Granite Dam, and was billed as “the largest masonry dam spanning a major river.” The April 7, 1900 flood destroyed two sections of the dam, causing a flood that killed dozens of people, and destroyed countless Austin buildings, including the electric plant located below the dam on the eastern shore of the Colorado River. The flood waters peaked at 60 feet high and a mile wide. Austin was without electric power for several months. The large granite and limestone boulders from the dam were buried in flood debris and later re-vegetated, forming the current Red Bud Island located just below Tom Miller Dam on Lady Bird (Town) Lake. Reconstruction of the Austin Dam began in 1912. The new dam was hollow, with 57 wooden flood gates. This dam was extensively damaged in the 1915 flood, and suffered more damage in the 1935, 1936 and 1937 floods. One of the most famous photos taken during these floods was that of a boathouse lodged on the spillway section of the dam. In 1938, the original 1893 dam section was reinforced with concrete overlay, and concrete piers were installed in the 1912 section of the dam for additional strength. The Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) completed construction of the Tom Miller Dam in 1940. Between 1935 and 1951 the LCRA created all 7 of the Highland Lakes for the purposes of flood control, to provide a stable water supply to the river basin, to protect Austin and downstream areas from flooding, and to generate electric power. Lake Buchanan and Lake Travis store and supply water (called reservoirs). The smaller lakes (LBJ, Inks, Marble Falls, Austin and Town Lake) are used as pass through lakes, allowing the water released from Lake Buchanan and Lake Travis to flow downstream. Power is generated at the Marshall Ford power plant at Mansfield Dam on Lake Travis. Lake Travis and Buchanan’s water levels fluctuate with rains or lack of rains; they are usually not full. The “pass through lakes” levels fluctuate slightly from day to day. Since the 1950s the LCRA has periodically lowered Lake Austin at the City of Austin’s request to help control the growth of nuisance plants in the lake and to permit lakeside residents to build and maintain docks. It takes approximately 2-3 weeks for the lake level to fall approximately 12 feet. The LCRA cannot permit the lowering of Lake Austin unless surplus water sufficient to refill the lake is available in Lake Travis. Lake Austin was not lowered in January 2012 due to drought conditions.The LCRA manages the Highland Lakes and Dams. It also manages the water, though water usage is set by law. The lake is patrolled by the Austin Police Department Lake Patrol Unit.
TPWD Lake Austin Public Access Facilities Map
Current Lake Austin Lake Level
Lake Austin Location Map
Austin Police Department Parks & Lake Patrol Unit & Temporary Personal Watercraft Bans:
The Lake Patrol Unit patrols Lady Bird Lake, Lake Austin, and Lake Walter E. Long. Lake visitors are annually banned from using personal watercraft, wet bikes, motorized surfboards and similar devices on Lake Austin during Memorial Day Weekend, the 4th of July holiday weekend, Labor Day weekend, and possibly on other holiday weekends. Non-motorized devices such as paddleboards, canoes and kayaks are permitted. If you were born on or after September 1, 1993, you must complete a Boater Education Course to operate a PWC or a boat with a horsepower rating of more than 15 hp. Lake Patrol Unit: (512) 329-8841. 2215 Westlake Drive, Austin, Texas 78746. To report boating accidents, call 911 or call Texas Parks and Wildlife Department at (512) 389-4848.
Sun & Fun Emergency Mobile Emergency Marine Service: (512) 748-8946. Service available Friday-Sunday, 6am-6pm.
The Colorado River is the largest of the rivers that exist wholly in Texas. The river rises in intermittent draws in northeastern Dawson County and flows generally southeastward for 600 miles before it bends to the east across southern Burnet County and continues its southeastern course across Travis, Bastrop, Payette, Colorado, Wharton, and Matagorda Counties to its mouth on Matagorda Bay near Palacios, Texas. Major towns on its route include Austin, Lamesa, Colorado City, Robert Lee, Ballinger, Paint Rock, Marble Falls, Bastrop, Smithville, La Grange, Columbus, Wharton, Bay City and Matagorda. Important reservoirs (lakes) on the Colorado include Lake J.B. Thomas, E.V. Spence Reservoir, Buchanan Lake, Inks Lake, Lake LBJ, Lake Marble Falls, Lake Travis, Lake Austin, and Lady Bird Lake (Town Lake) in Austin; the latter 7 lakes are known as the Highland Lakes. Early in the 19th century the river’s slow current caused the formation of a raft, or a log jam, which gradually grew upstream so that the river was navigable in 1839 for only ten miles above its mouth. By 1858 the situation in Matagorda and Wharton counties had become so bad that the state appropriated funds for the construction of a new channel around the raft; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened the channel in the mid-1800s, but it was not maintained so the raft filled it up. After the Civil War the Colorado ceased to be a factor in transportation. The delta that developed after removal of the log jam in 1925, reached across Matagorda Bay as far as Matagorda Peninsula by 1936. In 1936 a channel was dredged through the new delta from the Gulf of Mexico to the town of Matagorda, thus forcing the river to deposit its flotsam and sediment directly into the Gulf. With the removal of the raft, the seaport town of Matagorda gradually became landlocked. The present Caney Creek channel was the original channel of the Colorado River until approximately a thousand years ago. The Lower, Central, and Upper Colorado River Authorities are the three agencies that oversee the conservation of and use of the Colorado River. Fish Stocking History
Pennybacker Bridge Loop 360 Lake Austin Bridge, 1982:
The bridge connects the north (Northwest Austin) and south (Westlake in Southwest Austin) sections of Loop 360, also known as the Capital of Texas Highway. The section of Loop 360 between the bridge and Bee Caves Road (2244) is considered one of the most scenic drives in Central Texas. The road is flanked by limestone bluffs and hills. Probably the most photographed sites in Austin are the Pennybacker Bridge, the Frost Bank Tower, and Austin city views from Lady Bird Lake (Town Lake). The bridge is named for Percy Pennybacker who designed bridges for the Texas Highway Department and was a pioneer in the technology of welded structures; to date the bridge has escaped a name change.
Evidence of burned rock middens (kitchens) suggest the creek area was inhabited by prehistoric people. The creek has an abundance of fresh spring water year round. When Austin was platted in 1839, the trails along Bull Creek became a highway for Travis County settlers. In 1854, the Oak Grove School was established on Spicewood Springs Road. In 1866, the Esperanza School, a one room log building, was established further north. This school building was moved to the Zilker Park Botanical Gardens for preservation. The Upper and Lower Bull Creek Greenbelts and Bull Creek District Park are located along the creek. Bull Creek’s mouth on Lake Austin is located just west of the County Line on the Lake Restaurant (5204 FM 2222). The mouth of Bull Creek is a favourite swimming and fishing spot. Bull Creek rises three miles northwest of Austin in north central Travis County and flows southeast for twelve miles to its mouth on Lake Austin.
The creek rises in West Lake Hills just east of FM 2244 (Bee Cave Road. It flows three miles east to its mouth above the Tom Miller Dam on the west side of the Lake Austin. The location of Bee Creek spring at the creek’s mouth makes the water a little cooler than the normal lake temperature. Bee Creek Cove is a popular swimming and fishing hole.