Lake Dunlap spill gate failure

Water spills over Lake Dunlap dam after a spill gate failed on Tuesday, May 14, 2019.

State officials are still working together and with constituents to try to help find a solution to the problems surrounding the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority and its four existing lakes.

This was the message Texas Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, conveyed to a curious audience Thursday morning at the Greater New Braunfels Chamber of Commerce’s government affairs committee.

After a spill gate failed on the 90-year-old hydro-electric dam at Lake Dunlap at the end of the 86th legislative session, many have wondered if it’s possible for state dollars to go toward repair and maintenance of GBRA lake dams — a question Campbell was asked during the committee’s question and answer period.

“I know the city of New Braunfels passed a resolution asking for state funding for the dams that you mentioned — I know those dams are not for flood mitigation, so they can’t access the flood fund — how will that funding work, will they have to wait until next session to approve it or is there funding available?” asked a woman in the audience.

There is no state funding available, Campbell said.

“Let me just start with the bad news and let me try to find some good news,” Campbell said. “We’re willing to work — Rep. (John) Kuempel and I have worked hard, (Rep. Kyle) Biedermann has joined us — (and) Sen. (Judith) Zaffirini has joined us trying to find out, 'How can we remedy that situation?’”

Being hydro-electric dams, the dams were built for the purpose of generating electric power. GBRA acquired the dams in the 1960s and the dams were built in the 1920s, Campbell explained.

“GBRA only does about 3% hydro-electric power only to Guadalupe Valley Electric Co-op,” Campbell said. “They’re getting ready to stop that, so they will not be in the hydro-electric power generating business. That was the purpose of the lakes, if you will.”

The lakes have, of course, also supported recreation, property values and more, Campbell said, but the dams do not help with flood mitigation.

“GBRA is a quasi-governmental agency,” she said. “The governor picks the board, but we turned all the power over to GBRA, LCRA, the others years ago for them to take care of those navigable waters for water supply, hydro-electric and they do wastewater now also.”

GBRA was given authority but no funding, Campbell explained. Never having taken up a taxing 

structure to maintain the dams, the dams were never maintained, she said. 

“Lake Wood, the further most lake in that series of hydro-electric lakes, that dam broke three and a half years ago,” Campbell said. “Only about 40 people lived around that, so you didn’t hear much about that. That’s in Gonzalez County. We all know what happened to Lake Dunlap.”

Having broken at the end of session in May, there was really no way to get funding for Lake Dunlap, Campbell said. 

“You have to try to convince somebody, ‘I know this isn’t a state property, a state lake, but can we get dollars for it?’” Campbell said. “I was asking like a 6- year-old at the candy shop. Couldn’t get that.”

So with no set form of funding, there are no state dollars available for GBRA’s lakes at the moment, she said.

“I’m happy, and the other representatives are happy, to try to push through a taxing district — to help getting a taxing district for all those that benefit commercially from the lake, we’re happy to try to help them set up a district so the folks in that area would pay taxes to try to maintain the dams, hence the lakes,” Campbell said. 

However, funds raised from such an entity would likely not be enough, Campbell said. 

“I’ve talked with the state water development board to try to see if we could get a loan, if they could get a loan to fix the dams, but you’ve got to have a funding source in order to pay back the loan,” Campbell said. “And not sure that any taxing district would be big enough to support that.”

Each dam could cost a minimum of $25 million to $28 million to fix, Campbell said. 

“That’s just a lot of money, and that doesn’t even count maintaining that,” Campbell said.

Campbell said she saw the dams herself, and has seen what can happen if other dams break. 

“We were blessed no one was injured when Lake Dunlap failed, and that was just one gate failed,” Campbell said. “If somebody is on the lake and the other gates fail, there is a high risk somebody is going to be injured or killed.”

The sentiment is to then find a happy medium where safety is maintained, but a funding source is created, Campbell said.

“So how do we do it, how do we fund it?” Campbell said. “That’s still a work in progress, if you will.”

During the committee meeting, Campbell also touched on 10 propositions that will be on the mid-term ballot this November as well as about successes of the 86th legislative session. 

The government affairs committee meets in Honor’s Hall at the chamber every second Thursday of the month at 7:30 a.m.

(1) comment

Dldmny

Well there you have it, the state legislature lacking in foresight washed its hands of all responsibility regarding GBRA and LCRA. The reason we find, for the lack of official oversight and contingency plan.

Water being the most precious of Texas natural resources, we should be asking how that was allowed to happen and whether it can be undone.

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