Aerial footage shows what's at stake for 4 GBRA lakes as deal postpones draining

Lakes closing to public for up to 60 days as officials ID unsafe zones

By Kolten Parker - Digital Executive Producer

SAN ANTONIO - Video footage shot from a helicopter by KSAT 12 shows the beauty of the South Central Texas lakes that officials moved to completely drain amid concerns that nearly century-old dams could fail and threaten communities downstream.

Those concerns were prompted by the partial failure of a dam in May.

After a group of landowners filed a lawsuit against the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority (GBRA) to stop the draining, a judge agreed Monday to delay, pending a trial in October 2020.

READ MORE: GBRA lakes will not be drained pending trial in October 2020

The footage shows, in order, Lake Gonzales, Meadow Lake, Lake Placid and Lake McQueeney, all of which are connected by the snaking Guadalupe River.

Hundreds of houses, industrial facilities and recreational outfits dot the lakefront properties and would have been economically threatened by the draining — as would some wildlife and part the ecosystem that depends on the lakes. There is $800 million in property value along the lakes.

As part of Monday's deal struck between GBRA and local landowners, the lakes will be closed to all activity for at least 30 days while officials determine which parts of the lake are safe enough to be opened until next year's trial. It could take up to 60 days.

The dams needed replacing 15 years ago. Now Texas will drain 4 lakes instead — causing other issues.

The lakes were scheduled to be drained starting this week and would have taken several days to complete. 

"Safety is our top priority. We understand this is an unpopular decision, but one that we feel is unavoidable given the dangers associated with these dams," said GBRA General Manager and CEO Kevin Patteson last month. “GBRA is committed to working closely with the lake associations and the community to mitigate the impact of this difficult, but necessary decision."

ORIGINAL REPORT: 4 area lakes to be drained amid concerns over aging dams

The dams have long needed repair but the state government hasn't ponied up funds and the GBRA said it doesn't have the millions needed to foot the bill. Two state lawmakers, state Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, and state Representative Jon Keumpel, R-Seguin, sent a letter to Governor Greg Abbott asking for help to fix the dams a week after the Lake Dunlap dam failure.

"The (GBRA) cannon fund the dam repairs. This local disaster is estimated to cost $28 million. We respectfully ask your assistance to fund the repairs," the lawmakers wrote to Abbott.

Abbott's office did not respond to a request for comment from KSAT 12.

"I know informally the Governor told Senator Campbell he would see what he could do," said Alice Claiborne, a spokesperson for Campbell.

MORE: Future property values muddy ahead of GBRA lake drainages

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."

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