Swimmers and tubers no longer will be allowed to recreate in a popular section of the Colorado River between Longhorn Dam and U.S. 183.
Austin parks officials said that because water is released from the dam without notice, swimmers and tubers below Longhorn Dam could be threatened by swift flows and fluctuating water levels. Legal questions also arose after East Side Tubes started running tubing trips earlier this year on that section of the river, only to see them halted when the city determined the path customers were taking to the water was unsafe. And residents of the River Bluffs neighborhood, which is adjacent to that portion of the river, had complained that tubers brought trash, noise and drinking to the area.
On Thursday, the City Council decided the “serious safety issues” were sufficient to ban swimming and tubing. The city code still allows for sturdy boats, like rowboats, kayaks and canoes on the river.
Several residents and community activists came to City Hall to speak in favor of the ban, though with no speakers signed up in opposition, the council voted for the ban without discussion.
Afterward, the owner of East Side Tubes told the American-Statesman the city “used safety as an excuse to shut down the business.”
“We’ve shut down anyway — I don’t have the money to fight the city,” Danny Walker said. “Are they going to ticket people who want to get in the river but can’t afford to pay for a kayak or park admission?”
City spokesman Victor Ovalle said the penalty for violating the ban is between $100 and $500, except in instances where it’s “immediately necessary for the protection of life or property,” such as saving a drowning person.
In August, after the parks department proposed the ban, the city’s advisory Parks and Recreation Board had recommended the city consider allowing tubing.
“What we’re really doing is trying to address a social impact situation with a blunt instrument, and I think it’s the wrong direction to go, ” Hill Abel, a member of the board who opposed the ban, said in August.
East Side Tubes reported no drownings or injuries, though a recent parks department report states there have been 18 water rescues since 2006 in the area where tubing and swimming are now banned.