The Guadalupe River is one of the major rivers in the state of Texas and Seguin has benefitted greatly from it as a source of water and as a popular destination point for vacationers enjoying rafting, tubing, fishing, skiing, and swiming.
The Guadalupe River has its headwaters near Kerrville and runs southeast for 230 miles, passing through Kerr, Kendall, Comal, Guadalupe, Gonzales, DeWitt, and Victoria Counties.
The name Guadalupe, or Neustra Señora de Guadalupe, has been used as the name of the river since 1689 when the river was named by Alonso de Leon. For centuries the river has long held the reputation of being at different times tranquil or a raging torrent.
In 1912, several Guadalupe County residents joined in a joint venture to form the Guadalupe Water Power Company and began to purchase river frontage for several lakes and dams to produce electricity. The project was slowed by World War I but gained momentum in 1924 when Alvin Wirtz joined the effort.
Wirtz secured financial backing and with the Comal Power Company they formed their electric network. With $2 million as a start, they began to construct their dams between Seguin and New Braunfels in 1926. These dams created lakes that took up most of the river bed between the two towns.
In 1927, the Seguin Enterprise newspaper described the project as “one of the foremost hydro-electric enterprises ever pushed forward in all of the Southwest.” In the 1920s through 1932, six hydro-electric dams were built on the Guadalupe with locations at Lake Dunlap, completed in 1932 with a surface area of 410 acres; Lake McQueeney, completed in 1928 with a surface area of 400 acres; Lake Placid, completed in 1932 with an area of 248 acres; Lake H-4 or Lake Gonzales, completed in 1931 and located eight miles west of Gonzales with an area of 696 acres; Meadow Lake, completed in 1931 with a surface area of 153 acres; and the southern-most lake called Lake Wood, completed in 1931 with an area of 228 acres.
In 1935, the Texas Legislature created the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority and gave them the power to develop, conserve and protect the waters of the Guadalupe River and to aid in the preservation of property and protection of people and livestock.
In the 1930s a site was identified for Canyon Lake Dam to be located five miles upstream from New Braunfels. However, initial studies found the limestone rock to be too porous and so honey-combed throughout the limestone rock that engineers rejected the recommendations to build the dam there.
In 1936 and 1938 major floods caused community leaders to demand action be taken to help reduce the damage caused by the destructive high water. A new study recommended the dam site be moved about sixteen miles upstream. Final approval for construction was given in the Flood Control Act of 1954. Canyon Lake was thought to be a solution to help control the catastrophic flooding along the river that occurred in spite of the six dams. Headed by the U. S. Corp of Engineers and the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority, Canyon Lake Dam construction began in 1958 with a completion date of April 20, 1966, at a cost of $20.2 million. The Guadalupe River still floods but is controlled to a great extent by the Canyon Lake Dam and the six downstream dams. Flooding all along this stretch of the river in 1998 caused extensive damage and homes were destroyed, forcing many homeowners to either raise their homes onto stilts or move to another location out of the cove.
While in high school, a group of us would travel down the Guadalupe in an eight-man rubber raft for six days every year. Mark Williams, Joe and Tom Bruns and I would put the raft into the river at the Capote River bridge and Mark’s father would pick us up six days later at another river access point. On the way, we would just camp on the river bank when it began to get dark. We lived on fish we caught and supplies we took with us—canned chili, etc. We took loaves of bread but on the second night of one trip a cow ate our bread while we fished. We had to rough it for the rest of the trip. We did not pass any of the dams on the trips.
Today some of the aging dams are more than 90 years old and have withstood the tremendous forces of countless floods. Finally, in 2016, a spill gate on the dam at Lake Wood failed. What had once been considered by residents on the lake as “a well kept secret lake” was suddenly just a riverbed and is now a forest of thick brush. The cause of the failed gate was believed to be the “aging structural steel” of the 88-year-old dam.
On May 14, 2019, another dam gate failed. This time it was the dam holding back the waters of Lake Dunlap. At approximately 8 a.m., the center spill gate failed, draining the lake in 24 hours at a rate of about 11,000 cubic feet per second.
At this time, the repair of the Lake Dunlap and Lake Wood failed gates, further needed maintenance and updating of the gates, is dependent on securing funds. These multi-million dollar projects will take two to three years at each dam at a cost of about $28 million dollars per dam.
Today the dams produce little hydroelectric power but the lakes are the venue for water recreation and fishing that would be devastated if any gates at other dams fail. Beautiful lakefront homes are now facing mud flats on the former Lake Dunlap.