Lake McQueeney Dam

Water trickles over the spillgates at Lake McQueeney dam on May 22, 2013.

They’ve heard the complaints. They’ve heard the rumors and innuendo. They’re listening, GBRA officials said late this week.

The Guadalupe Blanco River Authority, which has been accused of selling out the people affected by its plan to open flood gates of four remaining dams in the Guadalupe Valley lakes system, is working to do what’s best for the community in the long run, said Charlie Hickman, GBRA executive manager of engineering.

Even though the income GBRA earns from the hydro-electric dams doesn’t warrant keeping them active, he said the authority has no plans of abandoning them, the lakes or the community.

“We’ve been spending three years and a lot of money on engineering firms,” he said. “We feel we’ve done our due diligence in coming up with the right recommendation for the future of the system.

“Whether or not the hydro continues, we’re, right now, spending money on engineering. That shows that we are committed to working together on the solution.”

The solution

The solution GBRA has come up with includes a plan announced last month to dewater Lake Gonzales starting Sept. 16. From there Meadow Lake will be dewatered, followed by Lake Placid and culminating near the end of September with the emptying of Lake McQueeney.

General Manager/CEO Kevin Patteson said the move is needed to protect people and property on the lakes in the event spill gates at the almost 90-year-old dams might fail.

Safety concerns heightened after a spill gate failure in 2016 on Lake Wood and one in May at Lake Dunlap, he said.

The move follows recommendations from an engineering firm and GBRA receiving architectural designs for a nearly $180-million overhaul of the dams. In the current plan, the water authority would have contractors replace all of the spill gates — a total of 15 — at each of its six hydro-electric dams in the system, Hickman said.

Repairs are scheduled for the actual dam structures to help bring them into compliance with modern safety requirements, he said. The $180 million price tag also includes adding a permanent dewatering system to help with future repairs and maintenance of upstream sides of the spill gates, Hickman said.

“If you want this to be a 50-year solution, you need to address not just the spill gates but the dams themselves,” he said.

The dams appear to be in pretty good shape as far as the authority can tell. 

“We have identified some work that needs to be done to concrete within the spill ways. Those costs are included in that estimate.”

GBRA officials looked at three types of spill gate dams in its research and settled on ones called hydraulic crest gates, Hickman said.

Hydraulic crest gates consist of a single gate leaf made of steel and are common in modern dam design, Hickman said. Hydraulic cylinders control movement of the gates giving them the ability to lower and rise independent of river conditions, he said.

A bear trap gate is of an older design consisting of two gate leaves made of many steel and wooden parts. Water pressure helps raise and lower them, making them dependent on river conditions, Hickman said.

GBRA engineers believe the hydraulic crest gates offer certain advantages other gate styles wouldn’t, he said.

The dams chosen are more reliable, automated, and closely mimic the current gates’ operation, Hickman said. The style chosen wasn’t the cheapest option, nor was it the most expensive, he said.

“We studied several options,” Hickman said. “There are ways to do it for cheaper, like putting back in these bear trap (spill gates), but they come with trade-offs like limited access for maintenance.”

When the dams were built many years ago, designers didn’t think to construct them in a way that offered easy access for maintenance, he said. The authority has done maintenance work on the dams but work on the upstream side of the spill gates is all but impossible the way the system is configured.

“Just about every dam owner that had these gates has replaced them with something more modern,” Hickman said. “This is a very historic design. This is 1890s technology you’re looking at here.”

The aging spill gates and mechanisms attached to them are deteriorating and failing. That creates safety issues, he said.

Replacing the gates is the best option. 

Paying for it

Funding is the issue standing in the way.

“We don’t make enough revenue (on the hydro-electric side) to completely take on the funding project by ourselves,” Hickman said. “GBRA is committed to being a funding partner. But it’s not something we have the resources to take on on our own.”

The authority has sought help from the county, the state and local governments to try to figure out funding sources. 

People living along the lakes have formed associations with other interested parties to try to determine ways to come up with the $180 million.

Any and all help will be critical in getting the job done, said Patty Gonzales, GBRA communications manager.

“We are not a taxing entity, nor do we receive public funds,” she said.

GBRA is committed to providing some amount of its own money to implement the $180 million project, Gonzales said. 

How much is yet to be determined as details are still in the works and no hard numbers have been finalized, she said.

The authority can help in other ways as well, Hickman said.

“We do have mechanisms to go out and get below-market interest rates to secure the financing for this project,” he said. “We do have that capability.”

The future

Bottom line is the hydro-electric part of the Guadalupe Valley lakes system is not performing as originally designed. The dams still work and they still generate power. The revenue from that power isn’t enough to make for a sustainable business model, Hickman said.

Still, GBRA plans to refill the lakes so residents and visitors can enjoy them for years to come, he said.

“The future of these lakes is recreation. Right now it’s just not profitable,” Hickman said. “There’s potential that the benefits of hydro might go away in the future. We don’t know that right now.

“But with the current market rates, it’s not sustainable.”

Dalondo Moultrie is the assistant managing editor of the Seguin Gazette. You can e-mail him at dalondo.moultrie@seguingazette.com .

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(4) comments

Skeeter00

Reality is this is all about peoples enjoyment and recreation. These dams are not for flood control (as noted in the FAQ from GBRA website) and I haven't heard a word about anyone not having water to drink or electricity due to the dewatering of the lakes. There is no reason to use tax dollars for the repair/replacement of these dams. Return these waterways to their original origin, The Guadalupe River just as they are above New Braunfels and below Seguin. there is a lot of money being made along River Road in New Braunfels with little more then a trickle of water some years.

Dldmny

Floodplains were developed in Texas long ago by water which overflowed river channels. The contours of areas adjacent to rivers provide evidence of their creation. Once established, a floodplain enables rivers to expand as needed by providing areas to contain excess water flow. Dams repurposed portions of floodplains by creating lakes. Water, lacking other areas in which to flow, often results in damage within areas that would otherwise be unaffected.

shortstick

If these lakes were not meant to be flood control, why do they need gates? why not just fill them with concrete? Why not just bolt a big slab of steel where the gates are? Why not place cofferdams on the upside of thee dam and let the water flow around over the spillway?

Rnaenae123@aol.com

I really think you have some great ideas. I don't think GBRA really explored all possibilities. I feel they are trying to strong arm the people who live there without giving them a timeline or explanation.

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