John Moore heard a loud boom while sitting at his kitchen table inside his home Tuesday morning.
At first, Moore checked his front yard, expecting to see smoke or a fire. When he didn’t, he walked outside into his backyard and noticed water gushing out of the Lake Dunlap dam — just two houses away from where he lives.
“The house shook when it happened, so my immediate thought was that there was an explosion or something,” Moore said. “As I walked out, I noticed there was a current in the lake, which there normally isn’t. Then when I looked at the dam, I realized that the water was coming out of the dam really fast.”
The sound that caused Moore’s daughter’s door to swing open was the spill gate failing on the Lake Dunlap Dam, which dumped water downstream at about 11,000 cubic feet per second (cfs), forcing the river and lake levels downstream to rise.
The failure happened about 8 a.m. in the northern portion of Guadalupe County where it boarders with Comal in New Braunfels.
Water gushed from the body of water north of the dam into the Guadalupe River below that feeds into Lake McQueeney and a host of other lakes and tributaries downstream.
Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority spokesperson Patty Gonzales said it is unknown what caused the middle gate in a series of three to fail on the 91-year-old structure.
“Our crews are still assessing it,” she said, adding the failure appears to be similar to the one that drained Lake Wood three years ago.
As of noon, the water had dropped 6 feet and was expected to drain the lake by day’s end, Gonzales said.
“We do expect the lake to dewater later today, maybe this evening,” she said Tuesday afternoon.
No evacuations were called, however, residents and recreationalists were advised to take precautions as the water surged down the river.
“We have some initial flooding with the water surge that will even out as the natural typography mitigates that impact of that pulse,” Gonzales said. “We are asking people downstream to take precautions, tying down any recreational items and for recreationalists to be mindful of the dangerous conditions. There could be swift currents, the water flows could be approximately 2000 cfs.”
Gonzales said a second flood gate was opened to help control the release of water.
Some residents and property owners saw their lake-front property submerge as the water spilled out, however, Gonzales said no damage had been reported as of 5 p.m.
There was no damage on Moore’s property as he lives away from the water, but said he could see the water rushing over the spill gate as he walked toward it.
“We are right up from the dam and I could see the other side of it, and I saw water was sprinting up,” Moore said. “… I drove to the Bandit Golf Course and their marina was under water. They had some of their boats floating, but I didn’t see any residential damage.”
With Lake Dunlap levels dropping, Moore said the views from his backyard went from “pretty water to an ugly mudscape.”
“It’s kind of frustrating,” he said. “It’s almost Memorial Weekend, which is the start of summer. There already have been a lot of folks and families out enjoying it (the river). We enjoy it all the time and it’s pretty sad knowing that it’s going to be a while before we can really enjoy it.”
It is unclear how long it will take to repair the dam, or the costs, which can carry a hefty price tag, Gonzales said.
Since the failure at Lake Wood, GBRA has worked with engineers to design new gates for the river system, however, it could be expensive.
“The design is not yet completed, but the cost could be tens of millions of dollars for each of the six dams,” she said. “So, this does create a funding issue.”
Moore is hopeful the issue can be resolved sooner rather than later.
“Hopefully it’s something they can fix quick,” he said. “I know they’ve had some problems on dams that have taken years. We will cross our fingers and say our prayers that it will be an easier fix than what has happened to other dams in the past.”