New Braunfels residents file lawsuit to block river authority from lowering levels of four lakes

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After the failure of two dams in the chain of six that make up the Guadalupe Valley Lakes, the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority decided to draw down the remaining lakes beginning Sept. 16.

Two lawsuits filed Sept. 5 in Guadalupe County District Court seek to halt the plan for a 12-foot drawdown that would take place through the end of September. A decision is pending on the restraining order and injunction to keep the lake levels from being lowered.

The GBRA decision to reduce the lakes’ levels follows the May 14 collapse of a spillgate at Lake Dunlap, a 410-acre lake that begins in New Braunfels and winds its way into Guadalupe County.

The collapse drained the lake, affecting more than 500 landowners. It was the second spillgate to fail in recent years; in 2016, a similar failure caused the level of Lake Wood to drop dramatically.

As most of the dams were built in the late 1920s and early 1930s, the GBRA has posited the safest solution is to drain Lake Gonzales, Meadow Lake, Lake Placid and Lake McQueeney by 12 feet.

Each lake would take approximately three days to lower, according to the GBRA.

The GBRA said $25 million has gone into dam repairs and maintenance during the 55 years the dams have been under its watch, but each dam would need approximately between $15 million-$25 million to be repaired or brought to safe standards.

GBRA said it coordinated with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department for the dewatering plan, which was “designed to minimize impacts to the environment.”

“Safety is our top priority,” GBRA General Manager and CEO Kevin Patteson said in a release announcing the drawdown. “We understand this is an unpopular decision, but [it is]one that we feel is unavoidable given the dangers associated with these dams.”

While engineering plans have been commissioned for the dams at Lake Wood and Lake Dunlap, residents and local municipalities will be left to find more permanent solutions, according to the landowners at Lake Dunlap.

Lake Dunlap landowners have researched the prospect of creating their own water district, which would allow the district to tax the landowners at a rate of $6-$8 per foot of waterfront property for 30 years in order to pay for the repairs to the spillgate.

The lawsuits
The two lawsuits against the drawdown plan, brought in each case by several waterfront landowners, seek temporary and permanent injunctions and ask for more than $1 million each in monetary relief.

One lawsuit alleges Guadalupe County Judge Kyle Kutscher told several property owners “that the reduction in real property values along the Guadalupe River will be at least 50% if and when the remaining levees fail.”

The lawsuit said the drop in values will affect the ad valorem taxes collected by school districts by millions of dollars. It claims GBRA acted in secrecy and violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act when deciding to dewater the lakes.

The lawsuit says GBRA’s claim of doing so for safety reasons is without merit because after the Lake Dunlap collapse, waters rose 1-1.5 feet and did not create further issues.

The GBRA stands by its claim that the dams are unsafe, citing its work with engineers on the problem. Officials said people often ignore signs and buoys warning of possible dangers.

“GBRA is committed to working closely with the lake associations and communit[ies]to mitigate the impact of this difficult, but necessary decision,” Patteson said in a statement.

The next step will be a court decision. More information will be available at communityimpact.com.

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Joe Warner
Joe Warner is managing editor of the nine Austin-Central Texas editions of Community Impact Newspaper. He previously served as senior editor of the flagship Round Rock, Pflugerville and Hutto newspaper. He came to Central Texas from Metro Detroit, where he was editor and general manager of several daily and weekly publications. He is the former president of the Michigan Press Association and was on the MPA board of directors for nine years.
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