Residents near GBRA lakes brace for drainage

Gonzales, Meadow, Placid, McQueeney to be drained

Thomas Belton worked hard to be able to live the life he wants, co-owning a water-skiing school on the same lake where he lives, Lake McQueeney.

But as the sun beat down on his ski-boat Sunday afternoon, a cloud hung over that future.

"There's nothing in the world I'd rather do than drive boats and teach kids to ski," Belton said, "Although I feel like that's coming to an end now."

McQueeney, along with Lake Gonzales, Meadow Lake and Lake Placid are scheduled to be drained one-by-one beginning September 16. The full lakes will be dropped by up to 12 feet as the Guadalupe Blanco River Authority tries to prevent any more spill gate failures at its aging dams like those that happened at Lake Wood in 2016 or Lake Dunlap in May.

Citing safety concerns, the GBRA announced the planned draw downs on Thursday. It expects to have the lakes drained by the end of September, leaving Belton and residents of others just a handful of weekends left to enjoy their lakes.

Though Belton, who believes "there's lots of other ways forward," and other residents may be skeptical things have to happen this way, they also know the draw downs are coming.

"It is hard to imagine, but unfortunately it looks like it is the reality," said Lake Placid resident Grant McFarland.

The estimated cost to replace 15 spill gates at the GBRA's six dams is $180 million. With the question of how to fund that still up in the air, it's anyone's guess how long the lakes will stay drained.

So, with an uncertain future ahead of them, residents are taking some of their last boat rides and taking in some final memories of their lakes.

"I can't stop taking photos of our family in front of the lake and just being out here with the water actually behind us in photos," said Belton's neighbor, Mallori Johnson.

Belton isn't sure what he'll do after McQueeney is drained. For now, he's focused on savoring it while it's there. 

"I want to enjoy every second of the lake while it's here. It's all I can do till they - till we have to get the boats out of the water, I'll be out here," Belton said.

About the Authors:

Garrett Brnger

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.