A HISTORY OF THE PROTECT LAKE TRAVIS ASSOCIATION
by John K. Strickland, Jr. (with contributions by Bob Vann)   July 2008

In the late summer of 1981, residents along Bullick Hollow Rd, between 4 Points and Cypress Creek Park, received letters notifying them of the intention by the Baseline Corporation to build a sewage treatment plant which would discharge 300,000 gallons a day of sewage effluent into Bullick Hollow Creek.  This intermittent creek which flows into Lake Travis is usually dry from August through October or longer, and the entire flow of the creek would consist of effluent during this period.  The Strickland family: (2 elderly parents and 3 brothers), was just starting to build a house above the creek.  They obtained the names of neighboring landowners from tax maps and contacted Bob Dunham and Bill Atwood, who both owned land downstream from the Strickland’s tract.  A small group was quickly organized to protect the small valley called Bullick Hollow, and then expanded rapidly to become the Save Cypress Creek Association by February, 1982.  An alternative proposal by Baseline to discharge the effluent deep into the anoxic zone of Lake Travis, in the general area below the Oasis, got the attention of additional people around the lake, and the group expanded very quickly and changed its name to Protect Lake Travis Association (PLTA).  PLTA was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) non-profit, tax exempt organization in May of 1982.  It was told by some Austin environmental groups that it could not possibly win against the large corporation based in Montreal, Canada. 

 

The PLTA has always been interested in protecting the lake and its watershed from both pollution and from hazards which could affect both residents and recreational use of the lake.  We have never been opposed to development of housing around the lake.  We have worked for safe alternatives to direct discharge of effluent into streams and  rivers and lakes, where the watercourse is used as part of the sewage “treatment” system, with its accompanying heavy load of nutrients.  Part of the initial strategy was a petition to the Texas Water Commission (TWC) for a ban on all new sewage discharge permits for Lakes Travis and Austin.  The petition drive ended with the formal presentation of a large batch of signed petitions to then Governor Bill Clements.  In 1983, the Commission adopted the ban, ending the threat to Lake Travis.  Baseline was defeated and did not even attempt to get a no-discharge permit development approved.
 

With this victory under its belt, the PLTA began to help create two additional groups: the Protect Lakes Marble Falls – LBJ Association and Protect Lake Buchanan- Inks Association.  The PLTA’s leaders showed the new groups how to petition the TWC for a discharge ban on their lakes, and by the fall of 1983, the TWC had banned all new sewage discharge permits for all of the Highland Lakes.  We also began to fight the renewal and upgrades of existing discharge permits.  Since we are strongly in favor of practical solutions to problems rather than always resorting to legal action, we started to persuade cities to use land irrigation instead of discharge into streams.  The Village of Lakeway and the cities of Llano and Burnet adopted these ideas and committed to total irrigation.  In 1984, the PLTA took on the major holdout, Marble Falls, the single largest discharger in all the lakes.  This city had wanted to discharge 1.5 million gallons per day into Lake Marble Falls.  PLTA members made many trips to the Marble Falls area to prove that farmland suitable for irrigation existed.  The fight with Marble Falls was long and expensive, but by December, 1989, they signed an agreement to work toward total irrigation.  It took an additional decade for them to cease all discharge, which was accomplished in 1994.

 

Next, PLTA started a campaign to bring attention to non-point source pollution (runoff of diffuse pollutants over a wide area such as oil on pavement, rather than concentrated discharge from a single point).  With the funding and support of the LCRA, Walter Cronkite was hired to narrate the half-hour documentary “Pointless Pollution”.  It has been shown by the local TV stations and has had a significant impact on public understanding of this non-obvious issue.  The PLTA worked with the LCRA in creating the LCRA’s Non-Point Source Pollution Ordinance, the Marina Ordinance, the Septic Tank Ordinance, and the Highland Lakes Non-Point Source Pollution Ordinance.

 

 The PLTA has also been involved in many other issues affecting Lake Travis, such as obstructions to water traffic, noise on the lakes, dock construction standards, excessive use of Lake Travis water, etc.  We have won several awards for our efforts, including the 1985 Water Conservationist award from the Sportsman’s Club of Texas, one from the National Wildlife Federation, the 1990 Water Conservation and Protection Group of the Year by the Austin Chamber of Commerce, and the 1993 Unsung Hero award, from the Lake Travis Chamber of Commerce.

 

The PLTA has had several Presidents who have each served a long term and worked extremely hard for the organization: including Cecil Laws, Taylor Ollman, Bob Vann, and Ken Fossler.  We have a board of directors with about 8 members who meet several times a year and spend many more hours working for the Association on their own time.  The PLTA consists of 100 percent volunteers; we have no paid employees and we depend entirely on contributions to continue to protect the water quality of Lake Travis and its watershed. 

 

See: History of the Protect Lake Travis Association in Documents and Pictures (4 MB)