After listening to a litany of suggestions for and pleas against GBRA’s plan to drain its remaining Guadalupe Valley lakes, the authority’s general manager said Wednesday that nothing had changed and they will move forward with dewatering the system.
The Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority announced last week that it would begin a drawdown of the waters in Lake Gonzales, Meadow Lake, Lake Placid and Lake McQueeney on Sept. 16. The measure is necessary due to concerns that spill gates at the nearly-90-year-old dams might fail and endanger residents and visitors around them. Those concerns heightened after spill gate failure in 2016 on Lake Wood and one in May at Lake Dunlap, said Kevin Patteson, GBRA general manager and CEO.
“It’s terrible,” he said. “Right now, the decision has been made. I will take seriously any comments from the board.”
Patteson made his comments speaking to a handful of news reporters following a two-hour portion of a GBRA board of directors meeting. Board Chair Dennis L. Patillo moved the agenda item up to the beginning of the meeting to satisfy the throng of concerned citizens packed inside the board’s meeting room.
“Let me just say there is not a member of this staff or a member of this board that doesn’t want a longterm solution,” Patillo said.
Patteson and members of his staff presented a report on the hydroelectric system and updated the board on Patteson’s very unpopular decision announced last week to drain the lakes. Residents are up in arms over the prospect of losing the lakes so many have enjoyed for multiple generations.
But anger isn’t the only driving force behind stakeholders’ needs to speak out. A vast number of people are willing to help come up with alternatives to opening the spill gates and releasing the water.
Save Our Lakes — a coalition of concerned Seguin, McQueeney, New Braunfels and Gonzales residents — had a contingency gathering outside the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority’s board meeting room Wednesday morning before the meeting started. Volunteer Tess Coody-Anders spoke on behalf of the coalition trying to shed light on inconsistencies she and the coalition have noticed between what GBRA officials say and the actions they take.
Save Our Lakes representatives want GBRA to postpone draining the lakes at least until economic, environmental and other impacts can be studied, Coody-Anders said.
“We know that GBRA is full of a lot of good individuals but, as a group, we think GBRA wants out of (the hydroelectric dam business),” she said. “We want our local and state officials to get GBRA to stop plans to drain the lakes.”
The governor is probably the group’s only hope to stop the river authority, Coody-Anders said.
Her group understands that a failing dam could cause harm to individuals and property, but more research is needed before getting rid of the dams and the lakes, Coody-Anders said.
“We all agree safety is a priority,” she said. “We just want to take a comprehensive look at what can be done.”
Save Our Lakes is ready to step in, help come up with ideas and raise funds necessary to solve the problems at the lakes.
GBRA officials say those problems include aging spill gates on dams with parts that have rusted and/or worn out that cannot be trusted to keep the gates in place. Making the issues more fearsome, those officials have said, is the presence of people recreating on the lakes, climbing on dams and putting themselves in harm’s way.
GBRA personnel has noticed vandalism and other crimes happening at the sites of its hydroelectric dams, Deputy General Manager Jonathan Stinson said.
All of the issues the authority foresees can be addressed and should be addressed, but those and other steps should be taken in place of emptying the lakes, citizen after citizen told GBRA’s board. They pointed to the inevitable hardships that will arise with the lowering of the lakes.
Chris Davis owns and operates a business on Lake Placid, where he also lives. Draining the lake will put him out of business and hurt his ability to care for his family — a wife and young child — who attended Wednesday’s meeting with him, Davis said.
“You’re going to kill my business, kill my property value and I’m not going to be able to support my family,” he said. “I wanted to show you what you’re going to affect. This is my family.”
According to the authority’s current plan, 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.
Guadalupe County Judge Kyle Kutscher attended the meeting and implored the GBRA board to take a more in-depth look into what can be done. Enforcing safety can be accomplished without taking away the lakes altogether, he said.
“I don’t feel like we’ve exhausted every opportunity of making these waterways safe, even up to kicking everyone off the lakes to inspect the dams,” Kutscher said.
He has concerns about the effect draining the lakes will have on the availability of potable water for residents in and around the lake areas. GBRA should address such concerns before draining the lakes, the county judge said. He also asked for a commitment from the board to work through discussions and attempt to come up with viable alternatives and ways of inspecting the dams before Sept. 16.
State Rep. John Kuempel, R-Seguin, put his plea much more bluntly and far more simply.
“Don’t do it,” Kuempel said. “Please. Let’s really think about Sept. 16 and what that means.”
At the end of the day, GBRA is still responsible for failing dams that could hurt people, Patteson said. Nationally recognized engineers have looked at the problem for the organization, and he made his decision with the help of their opinions, Patteson said.
He understands the frustrations but said the decision still stands.
“I hear everyone,” Patteson said. “It’s terrible; I get it.”
GBRA needs about $180 million to install new dams after the drawdown. Officials have said they don’t know when the new dams can be installed and won’t until they identify funding sources. The scope of the job makes the cost so high, Patteson said.
“Starting over still you have to deal with a river, the water there during construction,” he said. “That makes it expensive.”