Richard Shepherd of Guadalupe County grew up and earned a living on Lake Dunlap. So he was dramatically affected recently when a spill gate failed and led to the dewatering of the nearly 100-year-old, man-made body of water last month.
“I was on the lake before I was born. My mother used to go on the lake while she was pregnant with me,” he said. “I do waterfront construction so yeah, it means a lot to me. I’ve supported my family for 30 years because of the lake.”
Shepherd, along with about 800 other concerned citizens, attended a town hall meeting the Preserve Lake Dunlap Association held Wednesday night at the New Braunfels Civic/Convention Center. The association rounded up a group of policy makers, leaders and others to explain to the general public the scope of what has happened, what is expected to happen and what they want to happen surrounding Lake Dunlap, it’s hydroelectric dam and the other five lakes and dams the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority owns in the area.
As things began, PDLA President J. Harmon introduced the panel on the stage with him.
Those people included Kevin Patteson, GBRA general manager and CEO; State Rep. John Kuempel, R-Seguin; State Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, who arrived a bit late after work; Guadalupe County Pct. 1 Commissioner Greg Seidenberger, and others.
Everyone in attendance had the same feelings and was on the same team, Harmon said.
“The last two weeks, everyone here tonight has been on the same roller coaster of emotions,” he said. “If a football team is on the field and the ball is fumbled, no one looks at it, points fingers and tries to decide who fumbled it. They pick it up and try to score.”
GBRA officials believe aging steel caused a spill gate to break free and open the dam at Lake Dunlap, Patteson said. Repairing it and the spill gates at the other dams GBRA operates will cost millions of dollars the water authority does not have, he said.
Several funding options are being reviewed to eventually replace all of the spill gates with updated, more technologically advanced versions at each of the dams, Patteson said. The authority is willing to accept ideas from the public to help determine the best path forward and how to pay for it, he said.
“Everything is on the table,” Patteson said.
Eventually, GBRA expects to complete the projects and bring the water at Lake Dunlap and Lake Wood — which dewatered after a failure at the dam in 2016 — back up to previous levels.
Campbell said she used to live on Lake Dunlap and knows some of the people still there and what they must be going through. She wishes she could just say “we’re going to fund” the repair and replacement work and make it happen, but the process of coming up with the money is much more difficult.
She and Kuempel tried during the latest legislative session to acquire funding from the state but their last-minute efforts failed, Campbell said. She said she plans to continue to be a partner with folks concerned about Dunlap and the other lakes in the system.
“I’m here to listen and I will,” Campbell said. “We don’t have the answers, but we’ll ask the questions and try to get them to you.”
AJ Sivek has lived at a house on Lake Dunlap about 15 years. He never expected to see the lake drained to such a low level.
It is important to have the lake levels reestablished, not only for the lake-front homeowners but for people who come here from all over to enjoy the lakes, Sivek said.
“People want to be on the lake because it is so refreshing,” he said.
The crowd at the meeting remained mostly calm. Only a couple times did audience members yell out questions or concerns, or snidely laugh at answers they deemed ridiculous.
During a question and answer session, Harmon read a question from someone concerned about the effects the diminished lake will have on property values around it.
The Guadalupe County Appraisal District’s deputy chief appraiser said the values could be decreased but it is too soon to tell definitively. He said the district will know the effects once and if homeowners begin to sell their properties and report the selling amounts to the district.
Some in the community already have speculated that the property values have taken a considerable hit.
Shepherd said his mother’s recent death led him and his siblings to talk about selling their mom’s lake-front property on Dunlap. They had put the home on the market shortly before the spill, but things quickly changed on May 14.
“It has been taken off the market,” Shepherd said. “We’re looking at having a long-term renter. I think in the long run, it’s going to get taken care of, they’re talking three years. We just have to wait and see how the whole deal unfolds. We really don’t have a choice.”