After two dam failures in three years, Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority (GBRA) announced Aug. 15 it will drain its remaining four lakes to “minimize the risks associated with the aging dams.” GBRA owns and operates six dams along the Guadalupe River, including two—Lake Wood and Lake Gonzales—located in Gonzales County.
Drawdowns are expected to begin with Lake Gonzales on Sept. 16 and continue upstream to Meadow Lake, Lake Placid and Lake McQueeney. GBRA expects the dewatering process at each lake to take three days to complete and hopes to finish the project by the end of September. Higher flows may be temporarily present during the dewatering process, but GBRA hopes the prolonged, three-day drainage period will quell dangerous conditions along the river.
“Safety is our top priority. We understand this is an unpopular decision, but one that we
feel is unavoidable given the dangers associated with these dams,” said GBRA General
Manager and CEO Kevin Patteson via press release. “GBRA is committed to working closely with the lake associations and the community to mitigate the impact of this difficult, but necessary
GBRA’s decision to drain its remaining lakes comes after they balked at the idea at a July 2019 board meeting. Lake Wood dam suffered a spill gate failure in 2016. Repairs to the dam have still not begun, leaving much of the lake barren to this day. A similar failure occurred at Lake Dunlap’s dam near New Braunfels in June 2019 leaving it drained as well.
GBRA communications manager Patty Gonzales said the repair and refill timeline is dependent on funding. GBRA estimates it would cost $180 million to replace all 15 spill gates at its six hydroelectric dams. GBRA said funding has been the primary hang-up with the Lake Wood repair. Gonzales mentioned the engineering phase of the Lake Wood repair is approximately 30 percent complete.
Established by the Texas Legislature in 1933, GBRA is a government-owned corporation. Though they are state-affiliated, GBRA is not a taxing entity and does not receive public money. GBRA maintains and operates its dams by selling hydroelectric power generated by the dams to the Guadalupe Valley Electrical Cooperative. However, GBRA also said the revenue earned by its business dealings are not enough to cover annual operating fees.
All of GBRA’s dams were built in the 1920s. Gonzales said the original 90-year-old dams did not include dewatering hinges, thus making spill gate inspections more difficult. GBRA hopes to eventually replace the aging components with new modern hydroelectric crest gates that have functional drainage abilities.
On Aug. 12, 2019, Friends of Lake Wood, a community group acting on behalf of Lake Wood residents and patrons, pitched the Gonzales County Commissioners Court on the county taking over the indisposed lake, dam and recreation area. The group portrayed the lake as a potentially “huge asset.” The group pitched the idea of designating Lake Wood Park, a recreation area attached to the lake, as a county park and mentioned possible collaborations with GVEC and Lower Colorado River Authority as revenue generators. The court could not act on the pitch at the meeting due to its delineation as a discussion topic and not an action item.
“We were informed of their intention to drain the lakes last week, it’s kind of sad we’re in this situation,” Friends of Lake Wood President Joe Solansky told The Inquirer Aug. 15. Solansky questioned if GBRA have considered the environmental changes draining the lakes will cause. In the past three years, Lake Wood has become overgrown in parts with grass and other vegetation. Solansky said refilling the lake in its current condition could create an “ecological disaster.”
GBRA’s decision not only caught the attention of local advocates, State Representative John Cyrier (R-Lockhart) also noticed.
“I understand how important these lakes are to the community, and I am committed to finding a solution,” Cyrier said via press release. “This will remain a top priority to my office until both Lake Wood and Lake Gonzales dams are repaired.”