Lake Gonzales’ dam spill gate failure brings uncertainty for residents, wildlife and environment

It’s been six weeks since a spill gate failure and the lake’s appearance has taken a drastic new look.
It’s been six weeks since a spill gate failure and the lake’s appearance has taken a drastic new look.

GONZALES, Texas – Lake Gonzales no longer spans nearly 700 acres after the dam’s spill gate failed in early August.

Officials with the Guadalupe Blanco River Authority(GBRA), which manages regional waterways, say a large tree became lodged in the spill gate on Aug. 3. The weight of the tree and the resulting water pressure may have led to the spill gate’s failure.

The lake is 12 miles west of Gonzales, or about an hour’s drive east of downtown San Antonio.

People who live in the area, like Christina Price, say they are now concerned about the lake’s future.

“This is home, you know, my son learned how to fish on this lake, my other son learned how to swim, this isn’t just a lake, this is our home,” Price told KSAT.

It’s been six weeks since the spill gate failure and the lake’s appearance has taken a drastic new look.

Price said just a couple of months ago, she and her family were swimming in areas of the lake that are now completely dry.

Locals in the area say it is also impacting the ecosystems, wildlife and possible endangered species along the 14-mile stretch of river.

Frank “Five” Williams Davis V, 7, who’s grown up on the waters of Lake Gonzales says it’s his favorite spot and something needs to be done and fast.

“Catfish, gar, bass, anything in this slew that’s a fish, that has to have water to breathe is going to die,” said Williams Davis.

GBRA engineers did not return a request for comment when we asked about what they are doing to fix the spill gate.

Their website says options for repairs have not been available and there have also been challenges with funding and state activities at the dam have been stopped for safety reasons.

“There are solutions out there, it’s just GBRA not wanting to sit there and sit down with us so that we can all come to a conclusion on what we can do to move forward and go past this,” said Price.

People in Gonzales say they will continue to fight to restore the lake and the wildlife in the area.

“The bass are trying to stay alive while they can, you can see them jumping in the background,” said Williams-Davis

Locals are expected to host a series of meetings in the upcoming weeks to discuss solutions.

The Lake Gonzales spill gate failure is just the latest in a string of problems for the lakes east of San Antonio.

In 2019, a dam failed at Lake Dunlap and a few years earlier, the same thing happened at Lake Wood.

Dam failure is a serious concern across Texas as funding issues have left a quarter of the more than 7,000 dams regulated by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) without adequate maintenence, the Texas Observer reported just a month before the failure of Lake Dunlap’s dam.

A sobering line from the magazine’s investigation: “Of the approximately 300 dam failures in Texas since 1910, half have occurred in the last nine years.”

RELATED: Aerial footage shows what’s at stake for 4 GBRA lakes as deal postpones draining


About the Authors:

Jonathan Cotto is a reporter for KSAT's Nightbeat. Jonathan speaks English and Spanish and is a veteran of the United States Navy. Previously, he worked in South Texas.