Boating companies on Texas lake work through drought
The Friday forecast for Lake Travis reads a high of 99 degrees and zero percent chance of rain. The latter is the more important and has become all too common for marine businesses on the central-Texas lake.
Today, the water level at Travis Lake is about 640 feet above sea level, far below the full pool level of 681 feet, and the impact is seen throughout the shoreline where boat launches are near impossible and wet slips are out of position.
Rod Malone, president of Sail & Ski Centers, has had a location on Lake Travis for 37 years. In that period, the area around the lake has flourished with Lake Travis being the economic engine for its growth. But like other businesses that depend on boater traffic, droughts like the current one can be devastating.
In 2009, the lake dropped and stayed below 650 feet above sea level, a depth that typically causes sharp declines in visitation, according to a recent Lake Travis Economic Impact Report.
For Malone, the effects were evident. While Sail & Ski’s two other locations had steady sales, the dealership’s Lake Travis location declined 55 percent in 2009, Malone said.
At such levels then and today, launching a trailerable boat is near impossible in many areas. Marinas located in deeper coves are often the only way to get on the water, an advantage that Malone says has increased occupancy at Sail & Ski’s marina, which is located on such a cove.
“A lot of private docks not as fortunate due to water depth went aground. Those customers were driven to our marina as sort of a safe haven,” he said.
Bill Marquardt, manager of Freedom Boat Club on Lake Travis, said his wet slips, also located on a deep cove, have gained an advantage with most launches unusable. However, like Malone, he has run into hesitant customers due to the current water levels.
“I have talked to several people that say [the lake] is closed, they hear the word closed and don’t realize it is public launches,” Marquardt said. “All they see in the media is an empty cove and a dock that is laying on the ground.”
Malone said the water level fears, much of which is magnified in the media, hurt boat sales. After water levels dropped in July of last year, Malone said sales the final six months of the year at his Lake Travis location were off 30 to 40 percent.
Both Marquardt and Malone said they take time to educate their customers on the drought and its effects on the lake.
Marquardt’s boat club has actually grown in the last year, and he says the option of a boat club is made more attractive with the current Lake Travis climate.
“I have been signing up members every single month, people still want to boat. We are a better option more than ever because if you trailer your boat it is incredibly hard to get in and out right now,” he said.
In order to get more people out on Lake Travis, Malone recently started a boat club at his dealership’s marina. In its first month of business, Malone said two people joined with the mindset that boating would be easier with the boat club during low-water lake levels.
Malone said there has been rain in the area, but it has not fallen in the right location to affect Lake Travis, but if it does, the lake can fill up to near-normal water levels quickly.
However, even in the current drought conditions, both owners are trying to get people to the lake and realize it is still a great boating environment.
“It is still over 100 feet deep in many places. The shoreline is exposed, but for the people that have access to the lake, it is like have your own private lake, so it is a very pleasurable experience,” Malone said.