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Environment

2-Year Anniversary Of Lake Dunlap's Collapsed Spill Gate Coincides With Construction Approval

The spill gates were swept downstream during the 2019 collapse, but part of the Lake Dunlap dam structure remains in place.
Dominic Anthony Walsh | Texas Public Radio
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The spill gates were swept downstream during the 2019 collapse, but part of the Lake Dunlap dam structure remains in place.

Friday marks the two-year anniversary of the day the spill gate collapsed on Lake Dunlap. The collapse led to lawsuits and elections to create a water control district to replace the dam and others like it.

Ironically on the anniversary of the collapse, the vice president of the voter-approved Lake Dunlap Water Control District — J. Harmon — said they received good news from the Guadalupe Blanco River Authority (GBRA) that will allow them to begin construction right away on a new dam.

"We got a news flash this morning that GBRA received the word from the State of Texas Water Development Board and TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) that the contracts and everything are approved and positioned, the money's funded and we are eligible to proceed today," he said.

Harmon said the state has given them a $40 million, zero-interest loan to be repaid over 30 years to construct the dam, but he says a bid from Zachry Construction of San Antonio comes in well below that amount.

He said any savings on the construction will be applied to the loan. He said property taxes collected by the district will also be applied to the loan. And he said the GBRA will give the district the revenue from hydroelectric production at the dam to help payoff the loan.

The GBRA reported the collapse at Dunlap and one earlier on Lake Wood at Gonzales proved similar 90-year-old spill gates on Lakes Placid, McQueeney, and Meadowlake were also in danger of collapse and should be drained to protect lives and property.

Property owners sued and the lakes were not dewatered. Safety zones — that keep water recreationists away from the dams — were increased instead. But GBRA officials then said they could not afford to address problems at the dams on their own. That in-turn led to property owners on all the lakes, except for Meadow Lake to approve water control districts to follow the lead of residents on Lake Dunlap. The state has approved applications from Placid and McQueeney, but financing still needs to be arranged.

Tess Coody-Anders, a resident on Meadow Lake and former leader of Save Our Lakes, said residents on her lake are looking at the formation of a water control district or taking over the dam, but need partnerships with the City of Seguin and the GBRA to make it happen.

"We've moved from solving the urgent problem of preventing the lakes from being drained to now solving the long term problem of restoring the safety and efficacy of the dams and keeping our lakes intact," said Coody-Anders.

Meanwhile, litigation against the GBRA continues. Attorney Doug Sutter represents hundreds of individual property owners who believe the river authority is legally bound to replace the dams without burdening property taxpayers.

"Our position is, as long as they own these dams, they have to maintain them. They have taken the position (that) maintenance is no good anymore and, therefore, it's our position you have to replace it because their the only entity that has the statutory requirement to do that," he said.

Sutter said an important appeals court ruling on the issue is expected in June.

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