GBRA: Spill gate replacements at Lake Dunlap, Lake Wood will take years

GBRA: Dams are two of six needing replacements; each will cost $15M to $35M

NEW BRAUNFELS, Texas – As water gushed through the Lake Dunlap Dam, leaving just muddy remnants of a lake in its wake this week, residents from Lake Wood downstream could empathize.

“I was standing there with the residents on their platform, on their dock and watched ‘em and told ‘em exactly what was going to happen to them as what we had happen here,” said Dale Schellenberg, who rents a camp house on Lake Wood.

Lake Dunlap Dam's spill gate failure Tuesday was not the first along the Guadalupe River. A spill gate at the dam for Lake Wood failed in 2016, caused by a failure of structural steel members inside the gate. The gate has not yet been replaced. 

In the absence of a repaired or replaced spill gate for its dam, Lake Wood has stayed largely drained and dry. Large portions of it have been reclaimed by brush and trees.

“It’s, I guess, demonstrates the name of the lake - Lake Wood,” said J.R. Anderson, who, like Schellenberg, is a member of the Friends of Lake Wood Association. "We have plenty of wood growing where the lake once stood."

As the brush has grown, so have locals' discouragement and frustration with the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority.

“We were optimistic that it would be repaired within a year, at the most, two years. And here we are three years later, and there’s been absolutely no movement,” Anderson said.

According to a GBRA news release Thursday, the river authority decided to replace the spill gates at all of its aging dams following the failure at Lake Wood. It is “progressing with a design” for Lake Wood to replace the spill gates and modify the concrete structure. 

The design is expected to take about a year, according to the GBRA news release, and will be similar for the other dams, including Lake Dunlap Dam.

However, the construction at each site would take two to three years, with each of the six dams costing an estimated $15 million to $35 million.

The price is the big hurdle, according to the GBRA, which says it cannot fund the projects solely through its own revenues.

“We recognize the value of Lake Dunlap to the community. GBRA is committed to finding a solution to replace the spillgates at all of our aging dams,” said GBRA General Manager Kevin Patteson in the Thursday news release. “The ability to move forward with construction at Lake Dunlap, Lake Wood, and the other dams is dependent on securing funding for these multi-year, multi-million dollar projects.”

Meanwhile, members of the Friends of Lake Wood Association hoped the dewatering of Lake Dunlap might make things move faster than they have been.

"They say the squeaky wheel always gets the grease, and there’s a lot of squeaky wheels up there,” Schellenberg said.

However, GBRA spokeswoman Patty Gonzales said the failure at Lake Dunlap Dam would not affect the timeline of repairs.

​The cause of the spill gate's failure at Lake Dunlap has not yet been determined, but it is thought to be due to aging structural steel. The dam was finished in 1928.

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