Waco City Council tonight will consider a 5 mph speed limit on parts of Lake Brazos to protect paddlers and prepare for the new riverside Baylor Stadium.
Under the revised ordinance, that speed limit would apply to the Bosque River from Brazos Park East upstream to the Lake Waco Dam, and from Washington Avenue downstream to the low-water dam.
Boats could go 25 mph between Brazos Park East and the Washington Avenue bridge, and water skiing would be limited to the Brazos River upstream of Brazos Park East.
The city parks advisory commission recommended the changes by a unanimous vote.
City parks director Rusty Black said kayaking and paddleboarding have become more popular in the past year, and some paddlers have reported close calls with power boats.
“The population using the river has increased quite a bit, and anytime you’ve got crowded conditions with power boats along with paddle boats, you’ve got to make certain you don’t do anything that would hurt somebody,” Black said.
City officials said the current ordinance is vague and unenforceable. It prohibits boaters from creating a “wake or wash which is hazardous or dangerous to other watercraft upon the lake” or contributing to erosion of the riverbanks.
Black said the city still doesn’t have patrols on the river to enforce boating laws, but he is asking for a boat for that purpose by next fall, to be operated by park rangers.
He said the rangers would focus on educating boaters about the law in the first year, ahead of the opening of the stadium in fall 2014. The stadium’s design includes a marina and tailgating area for boats.
Officials at Outdoor Waco, 215 S. University Parks, said the new ordinance is an important step in making Lake Brazos paddle-friendly.
The shop, which opened in April, already has had more than 2,000 paddle-craft rentals, using the riverwalk section under the Franklin Avenue bridge as the launch point.
Store manager Jesse Harris said that last month a woman and her son told him they went out for their first time in a canoe and immediately were harassed by a wakeboarder behind a motorized craft who continually zoomed past them.
When asked to stop, the wakeboarder reportedly laughed and continued, Harris said.
“Eventually, (the canoers) flipped in the middle of the river,” Harris said. “It was a terrible experience.”
He said most motorboat operators are more sensitive to paddlers, and he doesn’t want to see motorboats discouraged from using Lake Brazos.
“Most people on the river are educated enough to know that kayakers have the right of way,” he said. “We’ve had some very positive experience, but it’s the negatives that kill it for everybody else. . . . With the stadium going on, you have to figure out a way to make that safe. Right now, it is unregulated and unsafe.”
In addition to Outdoor Waco, popular paddle launch points include the Baylor Marina, Brazos Park East and the McLennan Community College dock, which is used by another rental business called Geared Waco.
The revised ordinance would allow higher speeds at events that get special permits, such as the drag boat races at Brazos Park East.
Gary Payne, local organizer of the Southern Drag Boat Racing Association, said as long as that exemption is available, he has no problem with the new speed limits.
“I’m sure that for future development, there needs to be something in effect,” he said. “The last thing I’d want to see is somebody in a kayak run over by a boater that didn’t see them for some reason.”