Robin Dwyer grew up on Lake Placid and owns property on Lake McQueeney. He has seen the water rise and fall through floods and droughts.
But the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority’s plan to dewater lakes McQueeney, Placid, Meadow and Gonzales has him worried about the ecological and economic impacts, he told the Seguin ISD school board Tuesday.
GBRA will begin the process of dewatering the authority’s four remaining lakes on Sept. 16.
The draining of the lakes could cause property values to drop, in turn reducing the number of tax dollars that come into the county, city and schools, Dwyer said.
“No individual organization is going to have more harm done to it, if that is allowed to happen, than the Seguin Independent School District,” he said. “The Navarro school district will also suffer some damage, probably Canyon or Comal will suffer some damage, Guadalupe County, the city of Seguin and a variety of other taxing authorities are going to … for sure suffer damage.”
State Sen. Donna Campbell agrees.
“I share many of the same concerns that residents of the lakes have: I worry about the economic impact it will have on property values as well as the taxes that support our schools,” she said.
As a member of the Citizens United for Lake Placid, Dwyer pleaded with trustees to consider joining the fight to save the lakes.
“We are definitely going to take some action. It is going to happen sooner, rather than later,” he said. “Think long and hard about becoming part of the solution to stop the dewatering of our lakes, which we believe is precipitous action without any merit. This is a serious, serious matter. I urge you and ask you respectfully to give it serious consideration.”
Dwyer, an attorney and former Guadalupe County Court at Law judge, spoke to the board during the public comment portion of the meeting.
His plea came before Guadalupe County Appraisal District’s chief appraiser Jamie Osborne addressed the board.
She read a statement the CAD board released regarding the hiring of a consultant firm to evaluate the properties on Lake Dunlap and provide a report expected in November, but said she won’t speculate on what could happen with property values.
“This is a very non-typical event in the marketplace,” she said. “That is why we hired a consultant for their professional opinion.”
District officials are monitoring the situation and working with the appraisal district, Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Tony Hillberg said.
The concern of a financial shortfall isn’t being ignored by the district, but Hillberg said there are safeguards in place.
“It is never a good thing when you experience value loss of a significant degree,” he said. “However, districts across the state of Texas are afforded a little bit of protection that maybe they didn’t experience prior to HB 3 (House Bill 3). It is not necessarily dollar for dollar, by no means, but because the state, when calculating state funding, is looking at current values, as opposed to looking back a year. This hasn’t happened yet.”
While the state helps with the maintenance and operations side of the tax, a decline could cause problems for the district when seeking future bonds, Hillberg said, because “it is dependent exclusively on the local tax effort.”
In Seguin ISD there are almost 2,000 properties on the water’s edge at about $898 million in market value, with a taxable value of about $694 million, Osborne said.
That equates to about 18% of the district’s $3.9 billion tax base, Seguin ISD spokesman Sean Hoffman said in a written release.
“Should 18% of our tax base receive a decreased valuation, the district’s tax revenue could be negatively impacted,” he said.
Board president Cinde Thomas-Jimenez said many questions remain unanswered before the board can make any decisions.
“I think we can all agree there are a lot of moving parts here,” she said. “If we do come up with some kind of decrease, I think the district is in very good financial shape right now that we will be able to make sure that we don’t lose any loss of programming or anything like that. I think this is going to be a very long process while we maneuver through this very unusual event.”
State Rep. John Kuempel worries about residents who live near the river and rely on the lakes for access to water.
“My concern is that (there will be an) ecological impact on historic trees up and down the Guadalupe River, and I think, more importantly, is that it is a water source to people who have wells on the river,” he said. “We’ve seen what happened to the people who are on Dunlap and the same situation is going to occur on the remaining lakes that are drained. That is going to be a challenge to those residents along the river.”
The lakes are more than a reservoir and to see them lost is enormous for the region, Campbell said.
“The Guadalupe Valley Lakes are an essential part of the charm that drives much of my district’s culture and economy,” she said. “While no one wants to see the dewatering of the lakes, we can all be in agreement that we don’t want anyone hurt or lives lost due to aging dams and infrastructure. I am working with and will continue discussions with Governor (Greg) Abbott, Lt. Governor (Dan) Patrick, Senate Chairman of Agriculture, Water, and Rural Affairs Charles Perry, local officials, impacted residents as well as GBRA to help find a workable solution.”
Campbell said she has continued to stay in contact with several state and local officials, and GBRA to identify potential funding to fix the aging infrastructure.
“During the legislative session, I unsuccessfully appealed to Governor Abbott and the Senate Finance Committee for funding to repair Lake Dunlap dam,” she said. “I continue to sit on the Guadalupe County Hydro Lakes Task Force as well as continuing discussions with the governor and the lieutenant governor on finding solutions. I have sent letters to the TECQ supporting the creation of a Water Control and Improvement District for Lake Dunlap as well as a letter to the Texas Water Development Board seeking funding for the aging dams.”
Kuempel and Guadalupe County Judge Kyle Kutscher both see the best solution to keeping the lakes in place are water control improvement districts.
“Most of the lake associations have taken long strides toward getting those prepared and ready for May elections,” Kuempel said.
The districts can become taxing entities that would be able to collect money for maintenance and operations of the dams, Kutscher said.
“Lake groups are still looking at the option of setting up a special district to find long-term funding sources for not only replacement, (but) maintenance, operations and long-term replacements when it happens again,” he said. “It shifted some of our focus of how do we fix the problem long term, so this never happens again, and so nobody has to go through what we are going through now.”
People are tracking down different potential options, Kuempel said.
“I’m working to find solutions,” he said. “I know people who are working pro bono representation on the federal level looking for solutions. It is not because we are not looking.”
With the Sept. 16 date closing quickly, there is still the immediate concern of the drawdown from all four remaining lakes.
Kutscher, with the assistance of County Attorney David Willborn, came up with a legal solution to close the lakes and keep them full, but GBRA passed on it, the county judge said.
Now, county officials believe the only chance at stopping the draining is through the courts.
“We are looking at, and understanding, the only real possibility of stopping the dewatering is some kind of legal action or injunction or a TRO — temporary restraining order,” Kutscher said. “Are there any other ways the county can have an impact on keeping the lakes from being dewatered? The answer is no. We have tried everything that we are aware of. However, we are trying to be involved and find ways to stop that.”
Each of the officials said they have hope for the future of the Guadalupe Valley lakes.
“There is a lot of hope, but with hope comes a lot of hard work and we are working hard,” Kuempel said.