SEGUIN, Texas – The Guadalupe Valley lakes are at least partially open again after a panel of experts turned in a report this week detailing which areas they considered to be "unsafe."
Lake McQueeney, Lake Placid, Meadow Lake and Lake Gonzales had been closed to all activity since Sep. 19, pending the report by the three-man panel. The report, which was submitted Monday, maps out unsafe areas around the aging Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority-owned hydroelectric dams that hold back each lake, except around Lake Gonzales, which still needs to be examined in a later report.
The other areas not designated as "unsafe" are open again for recreation.
Saffold Dam, which lies on the Guadalupe River between Lake Placid and Meadow Lake, is also included in the report, although it is not owned by the GBRA.
The unsafe areas are separated into two types.
Prohibited unsafe zones are immediately upstream and downstream of the dams. Any activity in or on the water is forbidden in these areas, like swimming, wading, tubing, boating, canoeing or jet-skiing.
Restricted areas are farther downstream from the dams, but could still pose a danger to people in the water. Activities in the water remain forbidden, but boating is allowed, provided a person wears a life vest.
"In the event of a gate failure, particularly downstream of the gate failure, a lake can turn into a river very, very quickly. Truly a matter of moments," said Samuel Vaugh, an engineer on the panel of experts.
Two other lakes held back by similar hydroelectric dams owned by the GBRA, Lake Wood in 2016 and Lake Dunlap in May, have already emptied because of spill gate failures.
These restrictions are a temporary compromise between the GBRA, which wanted to drain the four lakes because of safety concerns over its remaining dams, and property owners who took the river authority to court to try to stop it from happening.
Per an agreed temporary injunction signed on Sep. 16, the lakes will remain undrained pending a trial in October 2020. In the meantime, a panel of three experts picked by both sides would determine how much of the lakes were safe to remain open.
There are also plans to try to help get repairs for the dams funded and underway. GBRA General Manager Kevin Patteson said four lake associations are "moving forward with solutions, mainly regarding creating their own taxing districts."
"They all have different paths going forward and doing that," Patteson said. "But that's certainly the avenue they're taking, and we're working with them to move that forward as best we can."
GBRA still needs to implement some of the security measures the panel recommended for the unsafe areas, including adding signage, buoys and markers. And property owners in prohibited areas need to get permits from the GBRA to allow them to get in and out of those zones.
The GBRA board passed a new ordinance Wednesday to give the new, unsafe zones some teeth. Under the ordinance, a person could be fined up to $500 for breaking the restrictions in either the restricted or prohibited zones.
GBRA officials said they are still waiting to hear back from the county attorney on whether the ordinance is enforceable, and it would be at least two weeks before it would take effect.