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Confusion over Highland Lakes boating rules amid stay-home orders

LCRA said the six Highland Lakes are open, but KVUE checked with cities and counties to see how the stay-home orders apply to recreation.

AUSTIN, Texas — If you combine nice weather with stay-home orders, it might make for quite the desire to take your boat out on the water somewhere like Lake Travis. 

But in section 4 of Travis County's "Stay Home, Work Safe" order, "All travel, including, but not limited to, travel on foot, bicycle, scooter, motorcycle, automobile, boat or public transit is prohibited, except for purposes of providing, obtaining or accessing Essential Activities, Essential Businesses, Essential Government Service, Critical Infrastructure, or Minimum Basic Operations."

LCRA said the six Highland Lakes are open. Those are lakes Buchanan, Inks, LBJ, Marble Falls, Travis and Austin. But we had to check with cities and counties to see how the stay-home orders apply to recreation. According to a spokesperson for LCRA, it does not have statutory authority to enforce local orders.

To view the status of public boat ramps, visit the LCRA website. 

Credit: KVUE Staff
A map of the Highland Lakes.

“Per the Travis County order, boating is restricted right now. We have spoken to our marinas, and our police officers have visited them and informed them about the orders that are currently in place," said Jarrod Wise, the communications director for the City of Lakeway. "That is not a specific Lakeway order. I think some residents are a little confused that it’s specifically just Lakeway residents, but it is a Travis County order.”

Lakeway Mayor Sandy Cox held a Facebook Live on April 21 to address some questions during a virtual town hall. 

According to the Travis County Sheriff's Office, deputies are on Lake Travis since it's not closed, and there are boats on the water. 

"We have an obligation to protect public safety," said Kristen Dark, the senior public information officer for TCSO. 

She added they don't pull boats over or ask why people are boating, but if there’s a legitimate law-related reason to pull a boat over, they take the opportunity to educate the boaters about the ordinance and seek voluntary compliance.

To see which parks or boat ramps are open or closed in Travis County, visit the Travis County website.

As for the City of Austin, a spokesperson told KVUE that essential activities like exercise are allowed. But boating is not exercise and is a means of travel, and only essential travel is permitted, not recreational.   

"Our goal continues to be to achieve voluntary compliance for adhering to all safety measures to reduce and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 set by the order," said Sam Haynes, a senior public information specialist for the City of Austin. "APD, Code Enforcement and PARD Park Rangers are all working to educate the community with the goal of achieving that voluntary compliance. If voluntary compliance is not met, Code and APD can issue citations. If a community member sees someone or a group of people violating the order, they should call 311."

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department said the Texas Game Wardens continue their efforts to keep the public safe on all waters. They encourage the public to follow community ordinances, check with the managing authority of the water body they intend to visit, follow six feet social distancing and to remember that all boating laws are still in effect and to remember a life jacket. 

As for the lakes that are located in Burnet County, Burnet County Judge James Oakley told KVUE that the lakes are open, regular laws apply and to use common sense. 


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