Chris Fowler gazes across Decker Lake, bracing for a fierce battle over the imperiled fishery. Photo cred: Chris Fowler
Walter E Long Lake faces sweeping changes, leading to questions surrounding management of a vital resource as well as the fate of an outstanding Texas fishery...
A central Texas goldmine of a fishery is in the cross hairs of proposed plans that would effectively strangle the lifeblood of the lake and potentially convert land adjacent into a golf course. Austin Energy recently announced plans to discontinue use of two steam units attached to a power plant that, ironically, was part of the reason Decker was impounded in the first place. While a multitude of stakeholders have voiced support of maintaining the lake in its current state, the powers that be appear poised to move forward in discontinuation of recharge on Decker Lake.
To better understand this, I caught up with Andy Myers, a Biologist and CEO of Myers Outdoors and Wildlife Solutions. "The lake is an impoundment on Decker Creek, a small tributary to the Colorado River, whose confluence is below Longhorn dam. The catchment or drainage area feeding the lake is 9.3 square miles according to TPWD Inland Fisheries Management office in San Marcos. That's not a sufficient area to catch enough water to keep the lake at full pool, or consistently to the elevation required to generate electricity. To maintain the water, developers installed a pump system from the Colorado River to fill Decker Lake...When water is being added to the lake, it’s quite visible, as the outlet is roughly 40 yards north by northwest of the boat ramp. It is orientated to flume and the disturbance and agitation draws baitfish, gamefish, and anglers."
Walter E. Long Lake is listed as a "good" fishery for several common species of freshwater game fish but, amongst locals in the know, might be considered spectacular for sunfish and black bass. It is the recharge that makes this possible. Nutrient levels are sufficient to feed large numbers of shad, propagate multiple species of sunfish to maturity, and allow for the spread of native aquatic vegetation. Presumably riding on the coat tails of water pumped into Decker, the aforementioned grasses have taken root and appear to be thriving. What does that mean? Big, GIANT bass. But current conditions are not static, and if water is no longer pumped in, the lake will begin to dry. That spells big trouble for a whole host of native flora and fauna that call Travis County home. "Organisms affected will include, the obvious fish from threadfin shad to 60 lb. smallmouth buffalo, to aquatic invertebrates, to migratory waterfowl, whitetail deer, beaver and other mammals. Some will die, and others be forced to water in further urbanized areas increasing potential adverse interactions with humans".
Eric Porter lips a nice bass on Decker. Photo cred: Eric Porter
Many outdoorsmen will have heard enough, but for others economic impact as justification is the only truth. If an agreement is not struck to continue recharge on Decker, real life central Texans are going to get hit hard, right in their pocket books. An online poll was conducted, and two hundred anglers that frequent Decker determined they visited the lake a combined 6,000 times in the last year, spending an average of $250 per outing. That’s 1.5 million dollars going directly back into the local economy. Due to the nature of online polling, and considering the poll does not account for other types of recreation OR dollars spent by businesses that rely on income from anglers…even the most pessimistic of statisticians would agree this number is likely much larger.
As of today, the only certainty is the two steam units at the plant are going to be discontinued. That does not mean that recharge on Decker has to follow suit. Anyone who would like to weigh in should reach out to local politicians, to include Mayor Steve Adler and local council members; their contact information can be found at the following link: http://www.austintexas.gov/government . I implore you to think hard about making your voice heard. It may be a lake in central Texas today, or some random section of hunt-able woods in Pennsylvania that finds itself imperiled tomorrow. But next time it could be your local hunting/fishing spot. As the moral and cultural fabric of the country shift, our “sport” faces NOT the threat of a wholesale ban on participation, but rather the threat of death from a thousand cuts, as specific methods become illegal and land is lost to development. At some point, we as a hunting and fishing community have a moral obligation, or should feel so compelled to band together and ensure the continuation of outdoor traditions for generations unborn.
I am a passionate outdoorsman with over 25 years of hunting and fishing experience across the state of TX.