The Gazette’s outstanding 5-part series on the future of the Guadalupe River lakes should earn an award. The series was nicely summed up by Executive Editor Chris Lykins in his Sunday editorial: “Money, power driving lakes conversation.”
As Lykins and others have observed, there are serious aspects to all sides of this issue. An emerging consensus is that instead of immediately draining the lakes, GBRA should arrange for tight security at the remaining dams until a workable repair protocol is established. This will assure the safety that properly worries GBRA management while providing time for businesses, residents and taxing authorities to prepare and finance an organized transition from the lakes to a river while repairs are conducted.
While some have endorsed allowing the river to return to its natural course, the lakes have become ecosystems that host far more species than the river alone. What will happen to the many hundreds of acres now underwater that will become dry land? How will this affect the security of lakeside residents? What will happen to the century-old cypress trees and the giant pecans and live oaks along the lakes? Where will the migrating waterfowl rest this fall? What will happen to the population of the official Texas State fish, the rare and “nearly-threatened” Guadalupe bass?
The lakes also serve as reservoirs, and this could become a high priority for fire flighting and irrigation should we experience a drought like the one in the 1950s and in earlier decades. While GBRA complains that the revenue from its hydroelectric power is insignificant, the income from one year of hydroelectricity amounts to nearly 6% of the $180 million that GBRA claims will be necessary to repair all the dams.
Unfortunately, there’s an invisible side to these many benefits of the Guadalupe River lakes. The day before Lykins’ editorial appeared, I took my camera gear to McQueeny to get some pictures of the lake. My plan didn’t work, for only flashes of water could be seen between the houses along Terminal Loop Road and the many side streets. So, I turned into the Lake Breeze Ski Lodge but was blocked by a “Members Only” sign.
I tried to find access to the lake at www.lakesonline.com, which reported: “Lake McQueeney is a hot spot for outdoor recreation, including fishing, boating, and swimming.” That’s good news only for property owners and club members, for this site also reports: “There are no public parks or free boat ramps on Lake McQueeney.”
Chris Lykins is right about the power of money in this matter. On one side is the GBRA estimate of $180 million to repair all five dams. The other side is who will pay the bill? Should taxpayers who cannot afford to live on Lake McQueeney be forced to pay for the survival of a “Members Only” lake? If so, shouldn’t the taxpayers receive at least a public park and a free boat ramp?
While not every home owner on Lake McQueeney can be considered wealthy, a good many are, including whoever buys the beautifully manicured 0.53-acre lot at The Point gated community for $1,275,000 plus a home owners association fee of $300 per month.
These costs don’t include a residence. Should government agencies require me to subsidize this and other such properties when I can’t even take a picture of this private lake? I’ve heard plenty of similar views from others who do not live on the lakes.
Summing up, the lakes have long played significant economic, environmental and recreational roles in Guadalupe County. Safety should be fully enforced, and the lakes should not be drained until financing for repairs is arranged.
Draining the lakes immediately without providing preparation time for lakeside residents, businesses and taxing authorities is as irresponsible as McQueeney Lake residents expecting the rest of us to pay for what amounts to their private lake that we cannot access and can barely see.
It’s time for reasonable people on both sides to reach a compromise to protect the lakes, their environment, the affected businesses and the taxpayers.