Disagreement continues over management of Medina Lake's water

Use of drones now at center of the issue

MEDINA LAKE, Texas – How Medina Lake is managed by the Bexar Medina Atascosa Water Control and Improvement District 1, or BMA, has drawn criticism from a group called Save Medina Lake. The group, which was founded close to three years ago is now making another push for change.

On Oct. 10, at a BMA board meeting, Save Medina Lake presented a petition to the board with 10,000 signatures.

"At least they should show the courtesy to look at it and at least pretend to take it serious,” said Henning Eilert-Olsen, chairman of Save Medina Lake. “I don’t think they even bother to do that."

"I read it. It doesn’t seem to me to be a petition to anybody,” explained Ed Berger, general manager of the BMA.  “It just looks like a general statement: 'Conservation's good, the BMA is bad.'"

The issue, however, is more complicated. Medina Lake Dam was constructed in 1912 to create a reservoir and was designed to allow area farmers to irrigate. More than 100 years later, the lake’s purpose has not changed, but what surrounds it has.

"I think it’s all about property values, and I think it’s almost a red herring on this part of it, because they want their property values raised,” Berger said.

The BMA is in charge of allotting water to area farmers. Geographically, there is Medina Lake itself, its dam and a secondary reservoir, called Diversion Lake, with its own dam. It is all part of what the BMA terms as a system.  It is from Diversion Lake that the BMA meters exactly how much water is released to farmers. This allotment is not in question. 

"What we do is we follow it by watching the elevation of Diversion Dam, which is posted every day at 9 a.m.,” Berger said.

What is not posted, however, is how much water is released from Medina Lake itself.  Save Medina Lake thinks more water leaves the lake than is needed. The group believes that, too, should be public knowledge. The BMA’s stance is that the system can be measured accurately by what leaves from Diversion Lake.

"They should at least tell the public when they have the valves [at Medina Lake Dam] open and how much,” said Rachel Mulherin, community relations coordinator of Save Medina Lake.

When asked if the BMA posts everything required under state law Berger said, “We feel so."

"If they manage that without keeping data on what they are doing, that would be a scandal,” Eilert-Olson said.  “So hopefully they have it, but they didn’t want to share it with us."

It is difficult to see the release valves or pipes on the Medina Lake Dam. Since it is surrounded by BMA property, opponents claim the only way to see how much water is being released is by using a kayak or flying a drone. As a result, Save Medina Lake opted to fly a drone to monitor water release.

"It’s against the law to fly drones over a high-hazard dam,” Berger said.

In October, the BMA issued a cease and desist order to have any drones grounded. It is illegal in Texas to fly drones over critical infrastructure, such as a dam, per House Bill 1481.

"We don't really think we are breaking any rules or regulations,” Eilert-Olson said.

Save Medina Lake claimed it is flying the drones in from the side and not over the structure itself. 

"This is a poor attempt to intimidate people from finding out what a political subdivision of the state is doing,” Eilert-Olson said.

For the BMA’s part, the disagreement is a non-issue, as the entity continues to work within the letter of the law. 

"The people around the lake get the benefit of utilizing the water when it’s in there, but they pay no taxes to BMA. They pay nothing for the upkeep of the dam,” Berger said.

Save Medina Lake believes it has the facts and data to back up its claim that Medina Lake could be better managed, benefiting Medina Lake residents and farmers alike. 

"We cannot continue to manage our water like we did 100 years ago,” Mulherin said. 

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