Posted: Tue, 18 Oct 2011 09:22 AM - 6,296 Readers
By: Gary Dinges
Carlos 'n Charlie's is a favorite stop for boaters in search of a burger
and beer, but getting there these days is a bit of a challenge.
At 628.37 feet, Lake Travis was almost 40 feet below October's
historical average of 666.20 feet and slowly falling late Monday
afternoon, the Lower Colorado River Authority reported.
That's bad news for lake-dependent business owners who have taken a big hit this year.
Pete Clark, owner of Carlos 'n Charlie's and a related business, Just
for Fun Watercraft Rental, said almost 40 percent of his customers are
boaters. With waterfront businesses getting harder to reach, he
estimates gross revenue is down 20 to 30 percent.
"I can't even imagine how devastating it will be if the drought continues," he said. "You would have no businesses out here."
With fewer amenities to choose from, many tourists decided not to visit
Lake Travis this summer, said Lake Travis Chamber of Commerce President
"The sweet spot on the lake is 660 feet," she said. "When we get below 660 feet, we start to see tourism suffer."
A recent report from the Lake Travis Coalition, a group of cities
adjacent to the lake, shows just how serious things can get when the
lake falls below 660 feet.
Annual visitor spending drops by as much as $33.8 million from the norm
of $90.5 million. As many as 241 jobs are lost, accounting for $6.1
million in lost wages. Sales tax revenue dips $1.7 million. Hotel
receipts decrease by $45,000. Mixed drink sales fall $120,000. Park
visits are reduced by as many as 375,000 per year.
Those figures have very real consequences for communities such as Lakeway.
"The city of Lakeway is fundamentally a lake community and derives its
very existence from its location on Lake Travis," Mayor David DeOme
said. "If lake levels keep falling, a serious future impact will be the
loss of property tax base."
Mitchell shares DeOme's concerns.
"Less money is being pumped into the economy," she said. "The dollars just aren't there."
That's the case at the Shores on Lake Travis, which offers vacation rentals primarily to out-of-towners.
"People learn about the drought and say, 'I've got to stay away,'"
General Manager Daniel Garza said. "They hear the negative stuff and get
Typical summertime occupancy is 90 percent or higher, he said, but this year it has hovered at 60 to 70 percent.
"When people call, they'll ask us, 'How is the lake?'" Garza said. "We
tell them there are things to do even though it's low. The lake is
accessible. It's usable."
The story's the same at Lakeway Marina.
"During August, boat rental revenues fell off a cliff due to press
coverage of the low lake levels, and waterfront restaurants and other
businesses were forced to lay off waitresses and dockhands due to lack
of business," said Janet Caylor, the marina's principal owner.
"Convenience stores, gas stations and lake-area businesses all suffered
due to low visitations."
Mitchell, Caylor and others say the Lower Colorado River Authority made matters worse by sending water to farmers downstream.
"Some businesses did not make it to the Fourth of July because they had
to relocate to remote areas or unplug their electrical equipment,"
Caylor said. "Others had never recovered from the summer of 2009
(drought), and these water management policies were their death toll."
LCRA spokeswoman Clara Tuma told the American-Statesman on Monday that
the agency is seeking state approval to curtail or stop sending water to
downstream farmers next spring if extreme drought conditions persist.
"LCRA balances the competing interests that depend on the Highland Lakes
and the lower Colorado River through its state-approved water
management plan," Tuma said.
"Over the last year, a committee of stakeholders from up and down the
river have been studying the complexities of the water management plan,
and the LCRA board is poised to recommend wide-ranging changes in the
plan to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which must
approve any changes to the existing plan."
"It's imperative that our interests are being looked at," Mitchell said.
"There's a significant economy out here that needs to be recognized."
Even though business is down at Lakeway Marina and Carlos 'n Charlie's
because of low lake levels, owners of both businesses say expenses are
Clark has had to extend his docks 600 feet because of the retreating water.
"We'll move 50 feet, then two weeks later, we'll have to go another 50 feet," he said.
Business was flat this season at Shore Club Volente Beach's water park, but owner Rick Redmond isn't complaining.
"We actually had a decent season," he said. "I was open fewer days, but revenue was about the same. We're pretty happy."
Redmond said the park is adjacent to one of the deepest parts of Lake Travis, making it immune to most of the drought's effects.
"We're fine," he said. "If you already have a boat on the lake, it's no problem."
But Redmond is a rare exception.
Caylor is optimistic that things will turn around. Enjoying the lake this fall is "worth the hike," she said.
Clark is holding out hope, as well.
"On several occasions I've seen this lake come up 20 to 25 feet in 24
hours," he said. "We're just praying for rain in the right spot."