Texas Droughts and Lake Boating

Published: december 2014 – Southern Boating
© 2014 Troy Gilbert

Texas, like much of the West, has been battling ferocious droughts for much of this decade. The effects are cascading throughout the boating world as some reservoirs used by recreational cruisers become severely depleted and rivers that feed the estuaries dry up and negatively influence the breeding grounds for fish and commercial seafood harvests. With the insatiable thirst from growing cities such as Houston and Austin, there simply isn’t enough water to go around and fights are brewing between economic interests built up around these reservoirs, cities, commercial fishing, and farming.

The effects are severe enough that many sailing and boating organizations regularly post updates on water legislation alongside photos of regattas or fishing tournaments where lower water levels are clearly visible along shorelines. Lakes such as Ray Hubbard, Granbury and Nocona have reached record low water levels since their dams were constructed in the 1960s and Lake Whitney alone has dropped 13 feet. Public ramps on Lake Travis have been closed due to the low water levels, and marina operators have to shift boat slips further from shore and into deeper waters. Cruiser safety is also becoming an issue in some places as boats hit shallows or newly exposed debris causing significant damages to hulls or engines.

As rivers and creeks dry up, so do the estuaries that are the nursery grounds for redfish, speckled trout, black drum, and flounder. As saltwater moves in to replenish the depleted fresh water, entire ecosystems are being damaged. Gulf oysters that normally thrive in the bays from Port Aransas to Galveston are taking huge hits from the hyper-salinity levels that are occurring. The effects are beginning to reverberate throughout the $17 billion tourism economy along the Texas Gulf Coast in higher costs and smaller recreational and commercial fishing hauls.

Texans recently voted to dip into a $2 billion “rainy day” fund in order to create new reservoirs, water pipelines and to fund new conservation projects. While not as heavily affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, Texas could also reap another billion dollars from impending fines against BP, and these funds should go directly into coastal conservation and reconstruction projects. However, individuals have expressed concern that some of this money could be redirected towards projects that have nothing to do with environmental restoration, just as Alabama recently did by directing millions from these penalties toward a hotel project.

Texas has a unique boating culture that has grown up around these reservoirs, and combined with the state’s already wild and beautiful rivers and coastline, every effort should be made to not sacrifice them for the sake of water intensive lawns or even rice farming. While Texas is faring better than states such as California, which is being ravaged by drought, it is crucial to protect the waters that make Texas such a beautiful state for all boating activities.

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