Highland Lakes

The Highland Lakes is chain of six lakes beginning in the Texas Hill Country with Lake Buchanan and finishing in Austin with Lake Austin.  Locals oftentimes think of these beautiful lakes purely as recreational, but that is not the case.  They are technically a series of reservoirs created by a series of dams that are closely managed by The Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA).  The LCRA was created by the Texas Legislature as a conservation and reclamation district with no taxing authority and operates solely on utility revenues and fees generated from supplying energy, water and community services.  LCRA supplies low-cost electricity for Central Texas, manages water supplies and floods in the lower Colorado River basin, develops water and wastewater utilities, provides public parks, and supports community and economic development including managing the Highland Lakes.

Current Lake Levels (from LCRA)
Historical Lake Levels (from LCRA)

From west-to-east, the Highland Lakes are:  Lake Buchanan, Inks Lake, Lake LBJ, Lake Marble Falls, Lake Travis, and Lake Austin.  One way to think of the lake system is like a tower of champagne glasses in that Lake Buchanan would be at the top of the tower and the water supply trickles down filling each lake with the last lake getting only what is left.


LAKE BUCHANAN

Lake Buchanan was the first lake completed in the Highland Lakes chain and was created primarily to store water and supply hydroelectricity.  It was created with the construction of the 2-mile long Buchanan Dam and is considered the longest multiple-arch dam in the nation.  It is the second largest lake in the chain, it is about 30 miles long and almost 5 miles wide at the widest point.  It’s almost like looking at an ocean scene at the wide part of the lake and is a great lake for fishing and boating.

Elevation when full:  1,020 feet above mean sea level (msl) (five feet below top of dam)
Historic high:  1,021.4 feet above msl on Dec. 20, 1991
Historic low:  983.7 feet above msl on Sept. 9, 1952
Normal operating range:  May to October: at or below 1,018 feet above msl

INKS LAKE

The 837-acre Inks Lake is the second lake in the chain and was created by the construction of Inks Dam which was built in tandem with Buchanan Dam so the two could work together to control potential flooding.  Inks Lake is a level-controlled reservoir with less than one foot (one third meter) variation in water level annually.  Much of its shoreline is protected or park land.

Elevation when full:  888.22 feet above mean sea level (msl)
Historic high:  902.8 feet above msl on July 25, 1938
Historic low:  877.1 feet above msl on Dec. 06, 1983
Normal operating range:  886.9 feet to 887.7 feet above msl

LAKE LBJ

Lake LBJ is one of the more popular lakes in the Highland Lakes chain and was created by the construction of Wirtz Dam and is about 21 miles long. The dam and lake were originally called Granite Shoals but were both renamed.  The lake was renamed in 1965 for an advocate of LCRA, President Lyndon B. Johnson.  The towns of Granite Shoals, Kingsland, Horseshoe Bay, Highland Haven, and Sunrise Beach are located on the lake.  The popularity of Lake LBJ is largely due to its normally constant level water which provides ideal conditions for boating, water-skiing, jet-skiing and other water sports even during the severe Texas droughts.

Lake elevation when full:  825 feet above mean sea level (msl)
Historic high:  836.2 feet above msl on Sept. 11, 1952
Historic low:  793.8 feet above msl on Nov. 16, 1970
Normal operating range:  824.4 feet to 825 feet above msl

LAKE MARBLE FALLS

Located at the City of Marble Falls, this lake was created by the construction of Starke Dam, the second smallest in the Highland Lakes chain and was the last one completed.  Lake Marble Falls is the scene of the LakeFest Drag Boat Races, held in August each year.

Elevation when full:  738 feet above mean sea level (msl)
Historic high:  756.3 feet above msl on Sept. 11, 1952
Historic low:  715 feet above msl on Oct. 4, 1983
Normal operating range:  736.2 to 737 feet above msl
LAKE TRAVIS

Lake Travis, created with the construction of Mansfield Dam, has the largest storage capacity in the Highland Lakes chain and is approximately 60 miles long.  Lake Travis is essentially a reservoir designed to contain floodwaters in the Lower Colorado River basin in order to help prevent destruction downstream, particularly along the shores of Lake Austin.  Much of our drinking water comes from Lake Travis.  At an impressive 278 feet tall, Mansfield Dam is the highest dam in Texas.

Elevation when full:  681 feet above mean sea level (msl)
Historic high:  710.4 feet above msl on Dec. 25, 1991
Historic low:  614.2 feet above msl on Aug. 14, 1951
Normal operating range:  at or below 681 feet above msl

LAKE AUSTIN

Created by Tom Miller Dam, the lake flows through the City of Austin and is a popular recreational lake due to LCRA maintaining control over the lake level.  Lake Austin is separated from Lady Bird Lake (formerly Town Lake) by Longhorn Dam.

For more information on Lady Bird Lake, see the Texas Parks and Wildlife site

Elevation when full:  492.8 feet above mean sea level (msl)
Historic high:  495.2 feet above msl on May 25, 1981
Historic low:  474.3 feet above msl on Feb. 17, 1963
Normal operating range:  491.8 to 492.8 feet above msl

Photo courtesy of Flickr, clared23

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