Cleaning Up (Lake Travis) For a Cause

by Hannah Hepfer on September 28, 2017 in General, Living Texas, Austin, Nonprofit,
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Divers were among the many volunteers at the 23rd annual Lake Travis cleanup. Photo courtesy

Over 800 volunteers gathered at Lake Travis on Sept 17 to remove 4,000 pounds of trash from the beloved Austin area destination. The annual event started 23 years ago when a small group of divers noticed the amount of debris and waste on the bottom of the lake and wanted to do something to help.

Kids at the volunteer celebration following the annual Lake Travis Cleanup. Courtesy image

The event, now co-planned by Travis County Parks, Keep Austin Beautiful and the Colorado River Alliance, is the biggest scuba diving and shoreline cleanup in Texas. Besides the immediate task of cleaning the lake, organizers hope the event raises long-term public awareness about preserving Lake Travis and the Highland Lakes.

“People are attracted to Austin for these big environmental features,” says R. Brent Lyles, Executive Director of the Colorado River Alliance. “But we have to be aware of protecting the ecosystems, too.”

Volunteers were stationed at 14 sites surrounding the lake, with the most volunteers (114) at Pace Bend. Special attention was put on locations where people recreate the most, including areas that party barges frequent.

“Party barges get a bad rap [for littering], but it’s not always malicious,” says Illya Shmulenson, Director of Programs at Keep Austin Beautiful. “Things do fly off boats accidently.”

Eight dive clubs participated, including Dive World Austin, Scubaland and Tom’s Dive and Swim. Corporate groups like Microsoft, Forcepoint and Atkins Global also volunteered.

During the Lake Travis cleanup, volunteers removed harmfully invasive zebra mussels from the lake. Courtesy image

What turns up from the bottom of the lake is perhaps the most interesting part of the day. Past years have produced an Apple watch, a wedding ring, phones, wallets, dehydrated food packs, and a prosthetic leg. Solo cups, aluminum cans and water bottles are particularly common. Lyles says that if something is identifiable they do try to return the item to the original owner.

A lively after party took place at the nearby Oasis, who donated the space. Volunteers received a free t-shirt, prizes, and lunch provided by HEB.