A portion of the safety study on the Guadalupe Valley Lakes is complete, and its findings were released on Monday.
An independent panel of experts charged with inspecting the Guadalupe Valley lakes system for safety issued a report detailing their findings and safety recommendations for the remaining four Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority lakes that have water.
The report is part of an agreed-upon temporary injunction that delayed lawsuits between GBRA and plaintiffs who own property along and around the lakes. Plaintiffs and defendants in the lawsuits chose an expert to study the lakes, and the experts chose a third impartial expert to complete the panel.
While he still had yet to consume the entire report, one of the attorneys for plaintiffs who sued GBRA said he expects swift action following Monday’s release of the independent expert panel’s report.
“We will endeavor to obtain implementation as soon as possible,” attorney Ricardo Cedillo said. “I want the safe sections of the lakes open for business ASAP.”
The report asserts that a single spill-gate failure is the most likely scenario, unlike scenarios of simultaneous failures of multiple spill gates that the river authority has warned the public against.
“The IEP’s understanding of technical evaluations by third-party consultants further suggests that cascading failures of gates at downstream dams would not be expected in the event of single gate failure at an upstream dam,” according to the report. “It is the opinion of the IEP that a ‘sunny day’ gate failure (i.e., a gate failure occurring during nonhigh-flow periods) is the critical scenario due to gates being in full upright position, elevated population at risk, and no advanced warning of the failure.”
Danger could be associated with such a failure, the experts wrote. The report designated several prohibited unsafe zones upstream and downstream of dams and gates, and restricted unsafe zones downstream of dams and gates.
Prohibited unsafe zones include areas that are unsafe for all activities on or in the water, including things like boating, canoeing, jet skiing, swimming, wading, tubing and more.
Restricted unsafe zones downstream of dams and gates prohibit activities in water like swimming, wading, tubing and more.
Prohibited unsafe zones include about 900 feet upstream of TP-3 Dam impounding Lake McQueeney, about 850 feet upstream of TP-4 Dam impounding Lake Placid, about 1,250 feet upstream of Nolte Dam impounding Meadow Lake, about 250 feet downstream of TP-3 Dam, about 850 feet upstream of TP-4 Dam impounding Lake Placid and others.
Restricted zones include areas about 300 feet upstream of Son’s Island, an area upstream of the river access area in Max Starcke Park on the left bank approximately 230 feet upstream of Saffold Dam; and the segment of the Guadalupe River from FM 466 downstream to FM 1117, among others.
The expert panel suggested safety measures such as identifying the prohibited unsafe zones with regulatory markers, with white buoys with orange bands and orange crosses and the words “DANGER” and “OFF LIMITS ALL ACTIVITIES” on them. The buoys should stretch from shoreline to shoreline above and below each dam, the report read.
Similar buoys with the words “NO SWIMMING” on them in black lettering should be used for restricted unsafe zones, according to the report. They too should stretch from shoreline to shoreline.
Restricted unsafe zones should be marked by floating red placards — 6 feet wide by 4 feet tall — reading “RESTRICTED AREA - NO SWIMMING, WADING OR TUBING BY COURT ORDER” in 12-inch white lettering.
GBRA should be able to grant access for activities such as construction on the lakes and boat access, the report read.
“It is recommended that limited boat access and egress within the prohibited unsafe zones be allowed only by written application request and approval by GBRA-issued permit,” according to the report. “A permit for movement through prohibited unsafe zones shall include provisions granting GBRA, law enforcement, emergency management, and rescue officials as well as the IEP comprehensive immunity from any and all claims in the event of gate failure.”
The report came in just after the 30-day mark granted by a judge last month. The IEP is working to complete the study after asking for an additional 30-day extension for Lake Gonzales.
The report came as welcome news to people living along the lakes and those in Guadalupe County who have felt a vested interest in the situation.
Members of the #Save Our Lakes coalition who banded together to speak out against the river authority’s plans to drain all of the lakes have kept an eye on the happenings. They are thankful for the experts’ report and look forward to what comes next, volunteer Tess Coody Anders said.
“Their report demonstrates a sincere commitment to safety without overstating the threat,” she said. “Even as we are happy to have our lakes open again, we will respect the panel’s designations for unsafe zones.”
Officials at the river authority were taking their time to effectively study the experts’ extensive report, GBRA Communications Manager Patty Gonzales said. They had no comment Monday on the contents of the document.
Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority officials have said they believe aging steel caused a spill gate to break free May 14 and open the dam at Lake Dunlap. The failure caused the lake to empty.
GBRA owns and operates six hydroelectric dams on the Guadalupe River. Dunlap was the second of the dams to experience a spill-gate failure and empty following the 2016 draining of Lake Wood.
The river authority has said the aging dams — all upwards of 90 years old — need their spill gates replaced at an astounding cost. Officials have said the authority has no funds to make the necessary upgrades, which has led to safety concerns with the prospect of injury should someone be on a lake or near a dam when the next spill gate fails.
Officials called for a draining of the remaining four lakes — Lake Gonzales, Lake Placid, Lake McQueeney and Meadow Lake. Members of lake associations in the Guadalupe Valley were up in arms.
Groups of property owners sued the authority, its board and staff members to stop the drain. Ables issued a temporary injunction against GBRA draining the lakes, and the parties came to an agreement delaying the drain while the experts conduct studies, and all sides try to come to a long-term plan to save the lakes.
The judge said since the lawsuits are still on the table, he needed to set a trial date for further proceedings in the event all parties cannot come to an agreement to end the lawsuits.
Ables said the trial would begin at 9 a.m. Oct. 5, 2020, giving parties involved a year to hammer out funding options, to study the needs and more.