Dam it.

Lake Travis is still rising, slowly.  We took another drive out to the lake, to join the other lookie-loos.  We got a glimpse of the backside of Mansfield Dam from the park off highway 620.  The lake level in the picture below is 702.6′ above mean sea level, inching closer to the dam’s spillway.

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Four flood gates were open, releasing floodwaters into Lake Austin below.

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And, as always….

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Ups and downs.

The lake levels are dropping from the 693′ levels from earlier this week.  Lake Travis was reopened today.   It’ll need to get to about 683′ before we have power on our docks restored.  But we’ll probably head out there this weekend anyway.  The shot below is of the downstream side of Lake Travis’ Mansfield Dam, with 3 flood gates open, from last weekend.   What a difference a year makes!

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Land lubbin’.

This weekend has been a glorious January one for the books.   Yesterday we kind of got rat-holed by what should have been a 30 minute project at the house, but it ended up consuming the day.

Today, however, i was determined to get outside.   The level of Lake Travis continues to remain woefully low at 624′ above mean sea level.   Happily, though, the rain from last week raised the level about 9 inches.   We just have another 684 inches to go before the lake is full!

One of the features of the land that surrounded the original river that the drought has uncovered is the piece of land referred to by locals as “Sometimes Islands.”  When the lake basin is flooded, the peaks of this piece of land sometimes stick up; sometimes they are covered by water.  Well, for the last 3 or 4 years, Sometimes Islands has become For-the-Foreseeable-Future Peninsula.

We set out today to walk the length of the peninsula.   So we packed a few snacks for lunch, brought our GPSes, and tossed my Christmas present from Monte – a metal detector – in the trunk for its maiden voyage.

We stopped briefly at the historic site for the original Anderson Mill – the mill that operated near Cypress Creek in the 1800s – a NW Austin neighborhood and road still bear its name.  They have a museum here as well, but it is only open for a few hours on the 4th Sunday of every month between March and October.   We’ll have to come back for the tour.

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Then we headed for Mansfield Dam Park and started our trek.

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This is the old highway that used to cross over the top of the dam.  It is closed to ordinary folks these days, and Highway 620 is the throroughfare now.  I’d love to get a chance to stroll across the old road now, though.

I walked the length of the peninsula – about 2.5 miles out from the park – and found all the geocaches that didn’t require scuba gear.  Monte marked a couple of points on his GPS that will hopefully be boating hazards and/or navigable cuts once again at some time in the future.  This was the view from the park looking out over Sometimes Islands…the structure on the top of the hill in the center of the picture is the Oasis.

IMG_7587We also tried out the metal detector for the first time.  And I have to say:  “Pretty nice!”   We were able to detect and reliably find nearly every piece of metal (aluminum, lead, iron, steel, …) that it sounded on, even if we had to dig 6″ or more to get to it.  I’m looking forward to bringing it along on some of our cove-explorations when the weather gets warmer.  No treasure this time.   But it was fun.

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I go back to work a week from tomorrow.  This weekend was a nice adventure.  I’m hoping to squeeze in few more next week.

Welcome to the Dam tour. I am your Dam guide.

Longhorn sailors.

Joe suggested a cruise down the lake to see the Dam.  It’s rare to see the basin when the lake is so low – at 627.85′ today.   It’s really not a basin anymore.  Sometimes Islands are all the way out of the water, and connected to land, so, islands no more.   The original river channel winds all the way around them.  Windy Point looks more like Windy Acres.  And many of the marinas have scooted out to what would normally be the middle of the lake, but is now the edge of the shore.

Monte and I joined Ken and Joe on Prelude for a sail.   It was a beautiful day.   We had nice breezes on the way down.    The closest mile marker to our marina is mile marker 14, and the Mansfield Dam is at, well, mile marker 0.  So, round trip was close to about 30 miles.

As we passed the Austin Yacht Club we got to see several of their regattas underway.  The shot above is of some of the University of Texas Sailing Team’s Flying Juniors fleet.   The 2012 Nationals will be in Austin.  So they’re working hard to get ready.  Good luck Longhorns!

Here’s a sight we don’t see very often…

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And, finally, we snugged up as close as we could to Mansfield Dam.  They have a string of bouys in front to keep people from getting too close – which foiled my plan to get a shot of myself touching the dam.

Upstream side of Mansfield Dam.

Construction of the Mansfield Dam (originally called Marshall Ford Dam) began in 1937 and was completed in 1941.   Mansfield Dam and Lake Travis are the only structures in the Highland Lakes chain specifically designed to contain floodwaters in the lower Colorado River basin. The lake can store as much as 260 billion gallons of water.   Some other factoids from the Lower Colorado River Authority website:

Elevation when full: 681 feet above mean sea level (msl)
Volume when full: 1,135,000 acre-feet
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
Spillway elevation: 714 feet above msl
Top of dam: 750 feet above msl

The floodgates are at the bottom of the dam and are used to generate electricity and for flood control.  The spillway openings are on the right end of the dam in the picture above.   Water will start to spill over them at 714′, but it’s never happened… yet.  The highest I have seen the lake was 701.5′, which was over the July 4th weekend of 2007.  Hard to believe there was ever that much water in the lake.

We had a really lovely sail.  A nice Sunday adventure.

I shake my tiny fist at this drought!