The Common Law
You can't do what on Lady Bird Lake ...?
Recently I saw some kids wading chest-deep into Lady Bird Lake under an overpass. Can you swim there?
No. It is unlawful for any person to swim, bathe, wade, or go into the waters of Lady Bird Lake. Violation of the law is a class C misdemeanor subject to fines of several hundred dollars. There are several exceptions to the law, such as swimming in a permitted event or trying to rescue "human beings" (jump in Town Lake to rescue an animal and, in theory, you could still be in violation of the ordinance).
This law is largely for the swimmer's own good. While Austin's Lady Bird Lake might look inviting from a distance in the summer heat, take a closer look and you'll see signs of the urban environment that originally garnered the name many longtime locals still use, Town Lake. Poor water quality, floating debris, and weather-driven changes to the lake's water volume and current are all reasons why the city deems it dangerous to swim in Lady Bird Lake.
The Texas Water Safety Act is the statewide law that addresses general water safety issues. The fact that there are way too many lakes and rivers for the state to regulate leaves considerable room for other governmental bodies, like the city of Austin, to create ordinances governing specific conduct on their local waterways. While we are on the subject, here are a few other things the city of Austin says you can't do on Town Lake:
• Bridge jumping. It's unlawful to dive or jump from any bridge that crosses the Colorado River (Lady Bird Lake) within city limits.
• Fishing from a bridge. Folks cannot fish from a bridge that crosses the Colorado River within city limits.
• Gas-powered motorboats. No person shall operate a gas-powered motor vessel on the waters of Lady Bird Lake, except with the city's permission. In comparison, boats with electric motors are allowed to operate, but only if the electric motor does not exceed a capacity of five horsepower. Officers or employees of the city who are acting in performance of their official duties are exempt.
• It's unlawful to use, operate, or assist in propelling or launching fluid-filled balloons or other projectiles on or in close proximity to Lady Bird Lake.
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Marrs, Ellis & Hodge LLP, www.jmehlaw.com.
The material in this column is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute, nor is it a substitute for, legal advice. For advice on your specific facts and circumstances, consult a licensed attorney. You may wish to contact the Lawyer Referral Service of Central Texas, a non-profit public service of the Austin Bar Association, at 512-472-8303 or www.austinlrs.com.