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Increased number of boaters, paddlers are hurting Lady Bird Lake

Large amounts of E.coli were found in the lake after peak weekends. Increased foot traffic is also causing erosion along the lake and trails.

AUSTIN, Texas — Lady Bird Lake is known as one of Austin's gems. However, as more people move to Austin, foot traffic has increased – and it's hurting the lake.

A new study commissioned by the City of Austin's Parks and Recreation Department in partnership with Department of Natural Sciences at Huston-Tillotson University found that as more people head out to the lake, water quality is being negatively affected. 

"We're concerned about what that many people at one time does to the lake," said Amanda Masino, an associate professor at Huston-Tillotson University. "We're particularly interested in tracking things like E.coli."

Masino told KVUE that they tested the water before, during and after a busy weekend. They found "concerning fluctuations," which has prompted more studies to be done on the lake. 

"But the more of those fluctuations we have and if the system doesn't have time to recover in between those fluctuations, then we start affecting the resilience of the lake long term," said Masino.

Water isn't the only concern – erosion along the shore and around the trails from people using unofficial access points is degrading the surrounding environment of the lake.

"There's several places along the trail where you can see people have just made their own little trails to the water to be able to put in their canoes, and kayaks and paddleboards," Masino said. "What that does, though, is it erodes. It's an area that wasn't meant to be an access point, and you start creating more degradation of the environment and of the habitat."

Researchers say the area of the lake between Mopac and Lamar is usually the most crowded. Lou Neff Point sees about 700 boats, paddleboards and kayaks during a peak weekend. 

On the other hand, the portion of the lake east of I-35, is not as well-known. 

"Very few people are using that area," Masino said. "Which is perfectly assessable. Perfectly lovely, but it's just not as well-known or as popular. So, people are not aggregating there."

Raising awareness about other entrance points like those east of I-35 could help minimize the negative impacts felt at Lady Bird Lake.

Some other solutions researchers suggest include:

  • Reducing congestion by adding more access points. 
  • Spreading out and adding amenities, like food and coffee vendors, and creating a fishing pier. 
  • Increasing connectivity to the lake along the trail.
  • Coordinating with watercraft vendors and members of the public to educate residents and visitors alike on the dangers of trash and boat congestion.
  • Support from volunteer programs and interns to clean the lake. 

Researchers have presented their variety of solutions to City employees to potentially bridge the gap. The group hopes to continue pushing for change, and have at least have one of these solutions implemented as a first step.

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