With two lakes already drained after spill gate failures and worries about others, Guadalupe Blanco River Authority officials said Wednesday lowering the remaining lakes for safety and inspection was a possibility.
The discussion came Wednesday morning during the GBRA’s board meeting in which scores of concerned citizens packed the agency’s meeting room in Seguin to air their concerns and attempt to get some answers.
Foremost on the minds of attendees was how the board plans to move forward in repairing/replacing the remaining aging spill gates on the authority’s six hydro-electric dams.
GBRA’s decision will have ramifications felt throughout the entire community and beyond.
“We need to find a longterm, feasible solution to the problem that will be good for our businesses, residents, schools and visitors,” said Kendy Gravett, president of the Seguin Area Chamber of Commerce, which has member businesses across Guadalupe County. “Not only will the tax values be decreased for the residents there and those who come for weekend visits and stay in homes on the lakes, but there are many businesses and many people who earn their living off of the lakes. The attractiveness of our city to people who are moving here, businesses who are moving here, would be greatly reduced without the lakes. That’s a huge deal.”
GBRA is focused on coming up with the best solutions, leadership said at Wednesday’s meeting. The authority is also concerned with safety and liability should another spill gate fail or should the remaining dam gates fail at once sending a torrent of water downstream at rates too fast to warn people in its wake.
Spill gates already have failed at two of the six lakes — Lake Wood in 2016 and Lake Dunlap in May of this year. Loss of life is a distinct possibility if and when other spill gates fail so the authority is considering its options to mitigate the possible effects, said Kevin Patteson, GBRA general manager/CEO.
The most effective immediate solution they’ve found is partnering with lake associations to set up tax collecting entities and fund the necessary repairs at all of the dams, repairs that could cost $180 million in total, he said.
Lowering all of the remaining lakes by up to 12 feet and checking the dams’ structural integrity is certainly an option on the table, Patteson said. It would allow proper inspection of the upstream side of spill gates.
The authority has made no decision to do so, but if the lakes are drained, it is uncertain how long they would be without water before remediation efforts are complete and the lakes can be refilled, Patteson said.
The main reason to drain the lakes, Patteson said, is for public safety.
“While no decision was made (Wednesday) regarding the best way to ensure public safety on the lakes, GBRA’s concerns remain,” Patteson said. “The video of the Dunlap spill gate collapse validates our concerns, and we are not willing to risk lives should there be another spill gate failure.”
The six hydroelectric dams were built in the late 1920s and early 1930s, and are at the end of their useful life, GBRA Communications Manager Patty Gonzales said in a written statement released Wednesday afternoon.
The board of directors voted to conduct additional engineering inspections at Lake Dunlap in an effort to identify the cause and point of failure of the spill gate collapse and how that information can be applied to the gates at the other hydro dams, Gonzales said.
GBRA will continue to work with county and state law enforcement to identify public safety strategies that can be implemented to reduce the risk of danger to recreationalists, the statement said. Ample public notice will be provided in advance before any changes to lake level elevations, the release stated.
As he left the meeting and public hearing, Toby Ivey said he believes GBRA authorities have their minds made up to drain the lakes. Ivey lives in a home on Lake McQueeney and has a recreational property on Lake Placid.
The thought that the authority will drain the lakes makes him sad, Ivey said.
“I understand the safety part of it,” he said. “They need to come up with another way for the safety.”
Limiting recreational activities on the waters, sounding alarms sooner, posting people at the lakes to monitor conditions and get warnings out early in the event of emergencies were some suggested alternatives Ivey made.
“Anything so you don’t affect people’s livelihoods,” he said.
Of the hundreds of people who showed up for the meeting, a good number addressed the GBRA board. They voiced concerns about jobs and economic effects of significantly lowering the lakes. They expressed displeasure with GBRA’s prior management’s decisions they believe led to the current situation.
They complained about the possible downsides of draining the lakes and worried that GBRA was thinking of taking steps too drastic for the problems at hand.
“I think this is ‘the sky is falling,’ Chicken Little. I think you’re trying to cover up for GBRA’s — maybe not y’all sitting there now — inaction on the lakes,” said Bob Wood, who said he owns property on Lake McQueeney. “I strongly encourage you not to wreak havoc on our socioeconomic system by draining the lakes, not administering repairs.”
The possible effects should not be underestimated, said Jonathan Stinson, GBRA deputy general manager. Life could be at stake.
GBRA’s models to predict possible outcomes are extreme but so could be the costs beyond dollars if the spill gates are allowed to fail while the lakes are full, he said.
“While this is the worst-case scenario, the sky has fallen and it fell twice,” he said, alluding to failures at Lakes Wood and Dunlap.
Friends of Lake McQueeney has set up a committee to try to start utility district that would collect taxes and raise funds for repairs/replacement at the Lake McQueeney dam, FOLM President Bob Spalten said.
Saving the lakes is of utmost importance, he said.
“The real story here is how those lakes affect every single person in that region of Guadalupe County,” Spalten said. “If you’re a plumber, a lawyer, AC, electrician, house cleaning, on down the line, every single person in Guadalupe County is affected by that lake. There’s a whole lot of people who would not be living in Guadalupe County if not for the lakes, myself included.”