After the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority announced Thursday plans to drain each of its Guadalupe Valley Lakes, people from Meadow Lake to Lake McQueeney and beyond shared a common feeling — they aren’t happy.

“I feel like that the GBRA should have known how to fix this,” Meadow Lake Resort resident Sarah Woosley said. “I mean, I worked in hospitals for years. Just because we didn’t have money to do something correctly didn’t mean we didn’t have to do it. So, I don’t understand why they didn’t look for a solution. I’ve already heard some people are going to move and I’m sure that the property owners are going to lose value in their property.”

GBRA announced in a statement released Thursday morning that the authority would begin “a systematic drawdown” in mid-September of the six lakes created by its six hydro-electric dams. The dams create hazards to people in and around the water, so the drawdown is necessary to minimize risks, GBRA said in the statement.

“Safety is our top priority. We understand this is an unpopular decision, but one that we feel is unavoidable given the dangers associated with these dams,” GBRA General Manager and CEO Kevin Patteson said. “GBRA is committed to working closely with the lake associations and the community to mitigate the impact of this difficult, but necessary decision.”

The authority and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department devised a plan to dewater the lakes with minimal impacts to the environment, the release read. Dewatering will start at the southernmost lake and GBRA will make its way north or upstream until the drawdown is complete.

GBRA employees will slowly open gates at each dam to slowly release the water, Patty Gonzalez, GBRA communications manager, said.

Lake Gonzales will be drained first beginning Sept. 16. Then Meadow Lake will be dewatered, followed by Lake Placid and culminating near the end of September with the emptying of Lake McQueeney if no delays arise, GBRA said.

The organization plans to send notices Friday alerting directly-affected property owners of its plans, the statement read. The authority can’t know when the lakes might be refilled until funding is secured, Gonzales said.

Two of the lakes already sit without water.

Lake Wood, one of the man-made lakes in the system, drained in 2016 after its spill gates failed, sending water coursing from the lake. A similar incident occurred in May when a spill gate failed at Lake Dunlap.

Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority engineers believe an eroded and deteriorated hinge caused the May 14 Lake Dunlap Dam spill gate failure.

“(The hinge) is the area where the gate connects to the concrete of the dam itself. It’s meant to rotate so the spill gate can go up and down,” Charlie Hickman, executive manager of engineering at Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority, said. “It’s what we believe failed on the gates at Dunlap. This pin is supposed to be fixed to the gate and rotate through, but over time that has failed and you can see where it’s wearing down.”

The pin that sits in the hinge is meant to be three inches thick. Over time, however, a good amount of it has deteriorated. Upon the recommendation of consulting engineers, GBRA officials believe it’s no longer safe to continue operating the gates because of the deterioration of the pin and hinge, Hickman said.

Divers who explored the waters of Lake Dunlap also found pieces of steel that had broken off the hinge.

While there is no way to inspect the hinges since they sit inside the gate, there is also no way of just taking one off and replacing it, Hickman said.

“This is designed based on all construction practices from the 1920s, several different pieces of steel are riveted together,” Hickman said. “There’s no way just to take this off and bolt a new one on there. It wasn’t designed to do that. You’d have to take the whole gate apart to work on one and you’re basically doing a replacement.”

A water barrier is also needed to even accomplish any work on the gates, he said.

“Modern dams are built with the ability to drop a bolt head and make a dry area to work in, but our dams did not include them,” Hickman said. “So they weren’t designed to be maintained, so to speak.”

Many in the community were aghast while watching video footage of the aftermath of the Dunlap spill, video footage GBRA published on its Facebook page and website. The footage showed the obvious dangers associated with the aging dams, but some ignored those possible dangers, GBRA said in its Thursday news release.

“The hydroelectric dams that form the recreational lakes along the Guadalupe River have surpassed the end of their useful life at more than 90 years old. Over the past several years, GBRA has instituted a variety of safety measures — including adding signage and buoys, establishing and extending restricted zones around the dams and installing real-time monitoring cameras as well as sirens and public address systems — to warn people of the hazard,” the release read. “Despite these efforts, monitoring systems continue to capture people within the restricted areas close to — and in some instances on top of — the dams, intensifying public safety concerns.”

The draining of the lakes affects more than just Seguin residents and their neighbors. Many people from out of town take to the lakes during the hot summer months as well.

Austin residents Donna Kreuzer and her husband Paul Kreuzer, who were making their way around Meadow Lake in a canoe, said the draining of the lakes is a disgrace to the community.

“All of this area (Meadow Lake) is a flood zone,” Donna said. “Our friends came out here and have built a house 20 feet high to prevent flooding and even though they have experienced floods whenever they come, they still come back because this is what they enjoy and to just steal it away from them is waterway robbery.” 

As a former Houston teacher, Paul said he has many memories of bringing his students to the Guadalupe to expose them to the great outdoors.

“This generation right now has always had it,” Paul said. “It’s always been here. You want to go sailing, you want to go canoeing, it’s here. And it’s going to be a shock to the next generation when it’s not.”

Les Shook, a Lake McQueeney resident of about three years, questioned why the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority neglected the dams for so long. 

“Dams, like anything, aren’t built to last forever and that’s why you have to have a contingency plan, somebody’s got to be putting money back in,” he said.

Shook estimates the effects of draining Lake McQueeney to be catastrophic to the value of his home and the surrounding county. And he placed blame for those negative changes.

“We’re victims of maybe decades of mismanagement,” Shook said. “There is just something wrong here. The biggest problem is that if they drain this lake my house is going to decrease in value by 50%. There’s a lot of valuable property on this lake. On this house, we pay $12,000 a year to the (Seguin) Independent School District. If that is reduced from $12,000 to $6,000 a year. Who’s going to make up for the budget default?”

More than dollars and cents are at stake. Quality of life issues can possibly arise with GBRA’s plan.

On Thursday morning, a San Antonio man fishing at the Lake Placid Public Boat Ramp said he recognized the concern about safety was valid. But Jacob Hernandez wondered if there was some way to save the lakes and preserve a way of life that seems to be fleeting fast.

“It’s disappointing. You bring your kids out here to have a good time and enjoy spending time with the family,” Jacob said. “If they do this, then what are we going to have to do, where will we be able to go.

“For safety purposes, I guess you have to do what you have to do,” he continued. “But, at the same time, what’s the cost? It creates a ripple affect.”

Thursday was the first time Jacob, his father-in-law Robert Hernandez and Robert’s brother Alex, all of San Antonio, visited Lake Placid. Robert has traveled Interstate 10 many times in the last 15 years or so and he always passed a spot off the side of the highway that looked interesting. For years, he said he would come back to the pretty and serene spot, Robert said.

Their first trip there conceivably could be the last, he said.

Robert Coker spent part of Thursday morning helping his friend Jimmy Frederick try out Frederick’s new boat. Frederick lives in the Lockhart area and Coker is a Guadalupe County resident.

As they maneuvered the boat at the Lake Placid boat ramp, Coker said he knew of the issues GBRA faced and heard about the other two lakes that drained. When he learned of GBRA’s plan to dewater all the lakes, Coker thought of the homeowners who bought waterfront property and what they must be enduring.

“I can’t imagine what the people who live on those lakes must be going through,” Coker said. “My opinion is it doesn’t seem reasonable to drain the lakes before they even know where the funds are going to come from.”

GBRA has said funding for replacement of the dams could cost $180 million in total. The authority has said the dams do not produce electricity that can cover operating costs, not to mention tens of millions in maintenance.

GBRA officials have not identified a clear source of funding for necessary improvements.

“Ensuring the long-term sustainability of the dams is a community endeavor,” the authority said in its press release. “GBRA is working in partnership with the Guadalupe Valley Lakes lake associations and affected residents, as well as city and county officials, to determine the best course of action for identifying, funding and completing the necessary replacement of the dams.”

GBRA has known for decades that maintenance on the aging dams was subpar and the hydro-electric dams don’t generate sufficient income, McQueeney resident Wayne Harmon said after finishing up a kayaking trip Thursday with his son Garrett on Lake Placid. Why is the association only recently looking into funding sources, he queried.

While GBRA was the one responsible for putting off maintenance, he sees the rotting dams also as a community issue that needs to be addressed by the community, including business owners who make their living benefiting from the lakes, Harmon said. It shouldn’t be just property owners, government entities and GBRA footing the bill.

“All these businesses that benefit off these lakes, they should pitch in,” he said. “After all these years, you would think they’d have something as a backup plan.”

News spread during a Wednesday homeowners association meeting where she learned GBRA planned to drain the lakes, said LizAnn Schary-Orr, a McQueeney Homeowners Association board member and homeowner in McQueeney for three years.

“It really looks like it’s a go,” she said. “A lot of people think that ‘oh, it’s not really going to happen,’ but it’s going to happen and I think what the president of the homeowners association said last night was that we’re acting on the premise that it is going to happen.” 

Schary-Orr is one of a few who are attempting to stay positive about the situation. 

“Some people are discussing whether or not we can do donations to raise the money to fix the dam because this is their spot,” Schary-Orr said. “I think we are basically going to have to depend on some kind of private fund. But one really positive thing about it too is, and they do this at Lake Austin where they drain it and clean it. Not that that is what’s happening to us but we could get out there and clean the lake. It’s shocking but I’m trying to stay positive.”

 

Dalondo Moutlire is the assistant managing editor of the Seguin Gazette. Valerie Bustamante and Joe Martin are staff writers for the Seguin Gazette. They can be reached at editor@seguingazette.com .

(10) comments

pilotrancher

After two flood gate failures, GBRA would be held grossly negligent in any court when, not if, a third gate fails and someone is killed. It's time for the homeowners around the lakes to move past anger, denial, and blame and get to work on a solution: building new dams and flood gates. If they want their lake front property back. The taxpayers of Texas, Guadalupe County, and Seguin don't own the problem nor owe you $179 million so you can enjoy living on a lake. I'm sympathetic, but those are the tough facts of life. Get on with raising the funds by taxing yourselves through tax districts. Once you step up, you may get some help from government agencies. Good luck.

AnglingLegend

Exactly my thoughts. I saw a comment from someone living on Lake McQueeny that shames the governor. Stating that for generations this has been a fun place for families to enjoy skiing and watch kids shows. That said; it’s not anymore. It’s also not open to just anyone as the elitist that used to fly around in their ski boats and come within feet of other boats that were fishing went and bought out all of the property to the lake and privatized it. That’s really when it ruined it for most people around the area. Have fun with your drained private’s stock pond. Hope that investment all those rude Dr’s and Lawyers who bought it out stays dry for a while. I was taking my dad fishing one morning to what used to be a public boat launch and an older man was incredibly rude and threatened us at gun point to leave his property. Apparently they had just purchased the land and hadn’t posted signs yet. My dad and I both left, but my dad being a police officer of 40 years nicely told the guy to post signs stating private property. That’s when we did the research and found there was a group buying all the land. Really took away opportunities for a lot of families in that area that we had enjoyed for years prior..

DoYourPart

These lakes have been a part of Texas since the 20’s. They have contributed undeniably to a sanctuary for not just those who live there. These ‘people’ laboriously as well as financially do what it takes to bring this community to life! Wildlife will cease their migration path and much of it will perish. The trees that bring us fresh oxygen will probably die. It is NOT just about living on the lake. It’s about saving more than anyone can yet fathom.

MB

No I personally think the county does owe us. Years of paying property taxes at values base on water front property, which is my choice to have so I pay the price for my family to enjoy the lake. Now we won’t have that luxury that we have been paying for. My thought now or concern is what price will I pay now? If values are base on water front , with out that now will my property taxes be lower. I will be the first person at Guadalupe county appraisal district come next year to protest my property taxes base on no more water front property. Which I personally suggest every one get ready to do the same. So yes the county should do their part too. Before May . I don’t get a discount because my lake house is not my homestead. Therefor my taxes are high. With no water front my investment is worthless.

PepeV

This is 2019 and GBRA is telling us that there is no other way to secure these gates??? There has to be an external lock or hinge that can be added to the dams to further prevent failure. Draining the lakes is catastrophic for the area. For those of you that think its just for the lake goers you are wrong. The farm lands will also be affected and that s all there is around here.

VoiceofReason

No comment on how or if the spillway gates should be repaired and/or who should pay for it. I think previous comments already covered that ground. I would respectfully disagree with DoYourPart regarding ecology. I would suggest that removing the artificial dams and allowing the river to return to its natural course and flow is much more responsible than maintaining artificial impoundments. Many other places with legacy dams are removing them just for that reason--to allow areas to their natural state.

bkbroils

My guess is the removal of impoundments you’re referring to is mostly tied to much smaller reservoirs and very different dynamics. Keep in mind these are 90 year old ecosystems that have their own flora & fauna as a result. You’ll see 90+ year old Cypress, Sycamore, and Pecan trees fall. You’ll see significant fish kills, including our State fish, the Guadalupe Bass, that is most prevalent in these lakes. Yes, years and years down the road there will be a thriving ecosystem more closely tied to its natural state, assuming the dams never get rebuilt; and that is a 50:50 chance right now.

Lower the lakes to mitigate risk, but don’t drain them. And if people want to ignore warning signs and kayak near the dam, let them roll the dice. It’s the same as someone foolish enough to walk across a highway, and we don’t close I-10.

FootballFan

Fish will still be in the water. I don't see any big fish kills. Fact is they are taking out many dams across the country to return rivers to the natural run to enhance wildlife.

bkbroils

Can you reference a few of these many dams you speak of? Pretty’s sure these are reservoirs with minimal (if any) residential properties. The fact is, the Guadalupe dams are smack dab in the middle of urbanized areas. The dams you’re referring to aren’t the same...but I’ll wait to see what you come up with.

And fish kills...we’ve seen it already when they drained the lakes 4-6’ in the past. Wait and see what 12’ does. Frankly, my concern is much more related to the devastating impact it’ll have on thousands of trees along the existing shoreline. The 18” they lowered it last year starved trees higher up the shoreline and have forced landowners to water to keep them alive.

Painting a picture of bringing the river back to its natural state as though it’ll be more beneficial than what currently exists is not being realistic. This ain’t the country any longer and hasn’t been for over been for years. And don’t make lakes out to be a bad thing...kinda silly. I don’t see TPWD pushing to drain lakes...quite the opposite.

Sunshine1

I lived in Hot Springs Arkansas on Lake Hamilton. Each year they lower the lake level. Notices go out and everyone knows when it is lowered and when it goes back up. This allows inspection of dams and residents are able to clean and or repair docks, brush etc. it is not a full release so critters in the lake are safe and you can still canoe.paddle boat etc. we even have community clean up. Just because processes worked since the 20’s does not mean they work now...apparently..

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