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A Texas River Authority Considers Dropping Lake Levels To Prevent Bursting Flood Gates

The floodgate is to the left of the dam on Lake McQueeney.
Brian Kirkpatrick | Texas Public Radio
The floodgate is to the left of the dam on Lake McQueeney.

Two Texas floodgates have collapsed in the last two years, and the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority warns four more lakes are in danger of the same fate.

The authority is considering dropping lake levels for safety precautions, which they believe will prevent the loss of life and property. The lakes’ floodgates are about 90 years old. 

However, many residents said they worry lowering water levels will damage their livelihoods and property values.

The Seguin-based authority seeks public comment on a proposal to drain Lake McQueeney, Lake Placid, Meadow Lake and Lake Gonzales after floodgates failed at Lake Wood in 2016 and Lake Dunlap in May.  

No lives were lost, but property values dropped in half, docks were left high and dry, aquatic life disappeared, trees died and wells went dry.

At the other lakes, GBRA Communications Manager Patty Gonzales said warning signs and buoys are meant to keep water recreationists away from the risky dam floodgates, but it may not be enough to save lives if another one fails.

“Unfortunately, people don’t always heed those warnings, and that’s where our concerns come from, and the video of the Lake Dunlap spill gate failure validates our concerns,” she said.

Texas Commission on Environmental Quality officials said the busted floodgates should serve as a warning to the owners of other older, smaller dams to inspect and repair them. 

The GBRA took over operation of the six dams and their floodgates in the 1960s, and its officials said revenue from generating power and supplying water to cities is not enough to produce the $180 million needed to replace floodgates on the dams of the six lakes.

After the Lake Dunlap floodgate collapsed, residents made plans to repair it because the GBRA was unable to do so. They hope to vote-in a lakeside taxing district on Nov. 5 to raise the funds themselves.

Thomas Belton is co-owner of a water ski school that operates out of the Sea Breeze Lodge on Lake McQueeney, just northwest of Seguin. He said the GBRA should have done more before now to maintain the floodgates.

“It’s a little disappointing the dams haven’t been maintained over the past 50 years that they have owned them because if the maintenance had been done correctly I don’t think we would be in this situation right now,” he said.

The GBRA disputes that, and it reports around $30 million has been spent on the upkeep of the floodgates, but simple repairs are not enough on something so old.

Thomas Long. who operates a boat repair shop, Precision Boat Works, hoped the authority considers all those who rely on the lake for their livelihoods before taking any drastic action.

Thomas Long (left) and Thomas Bolton said they worry about the economic impact of Lake McQueeney if it is drained.
Credit Brian Kirkpatrick | Texas Public Radio
Thomas Long (left) and Thomas Bolton said they worry about the economic impact of Lake McQueeney if it is drained.

“They need to consider the businesses out here, you know, if there is a way to leave water up to survive and function until they have a plan in place or replace these gates, that would be preferred,” he said.

In the tiny community of McQueeney, the cicadas in the trees often make more noise than the traffic passing under the single, blinking yellow caution light over the main drag.

But there was plenty of noise about lowering the lakes. Dayna Green operates Bait and Brew and Veleda Harley runs Harley’s Bait Shop. They were sitting under a shaded porch at Bait and Brew when TPR asked for their opinions.  

“Well I mean it needs to be done, doesn’t it?  There needs to be some sort of maintenance or some sort of check anyway,” Green said.

“Everybody’s whining because they’re gonna drop the water level 12 feet and we’re not going able to put our boats in the water,” Harley said.  “But don’t you want them to see if it’s okay?  Look, I would like them to check them and make sure they are okay before it breaks again.”

At Lake Placid, home of the popular water recreation spot called Son’s Island, and at Meadow Lake, residents and business owners were also concerned about draining the lakes.

People on Lake Placid at Son's Island.
Credit Brian Kirkpatrick | Texas Public Radio
People on Lake Placid at Son's Island.

In written responses to TPR's questions, they worried about the negative impact on the local economy and on property values, property taxes and flood control.

They believed there are more cost-efficient ways to replace the failing floodgates that the GBRA needs to consider. They also want local and state leaders to take action to preserve the lakes.

The GBRA stressed it is listening and will continue to do so before making a final decision.

Residents lined up to speak at this month’s board meeting about lowering the lakes and are expected to do the same in August.

Brian Kirkpatrick can be reached at and on Twitter at @TPRBrian.

Copyright 2020 Texas Public Radio. To see more, visit Texas Public Radio.

Brian Kirkpatrick has been a journalist in Texas most of his life, covering San Antonio news since 1993, including the deadly October 1998 flooding, the arrival of the Toyota plant in 2003, and the base closure and realignments in 2005.