Dam Failure Leads To Conflict Between Residents And River Authority

“[Residents have said] ‘please don’t dewater our lakes because we’ll lose property value significantly and our economy will go down the toilet.’”

By Jill AmentJuly 22, 2019 1:33 pm,

The Guadalupe River is known as a great place for tubing and fly fishing. But safety concerns came to light after a dam gate on Lake Dunlap collapsed in May. The Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority, or GRBA, has come up with a solution that has many residents who depend on the river up in arms. 

Josh Baugh has been covering this story for The San Antonio Express-News, and says most of these dams were built in the 1920s and 30s, so many of them are past their life expectancy, and should be retired. The GBRA is considering draining Lake McQueeney – whose dam has long been overdue for renovations – long enough for an inspection to ensure it can still function. The problem, he says, is money.

“They need about $180 million to replace all 18 spill gates… but because these dams are hydroelectric, these dams have not been profitable for over a decade…” Baugh says. “The state’s not been able to help, the feds haven’t been able to help.” 

Because the dams are not profitable, the city is trying to find other ways to raise money – not to replace dams completely, but to repair the parts that need to be updated. 

“At this point the folks on Lake Dunlap are actually working on creating a special taxing district so they’ll tax themselves per linear foot per lake frontage over the course of about 30 years to try and generate enough revenue or portion of revenue… just to fix their dam system,” Baugh says.

Residents in the area near Lake McQueeney are worried about the impact on recreation and the economy, if the lake is drained indefinitely. They don’t believe the GBRA’s assertion that a catastrophic loss of life and property wold result if the lake were not drained. And residents claim that it’s not possible that the entire dam would collapse. But, they say, if the water level were reduced and doesn’t come back up again, then a lot of people would lose their jobs. 

“This is livelihood for people – there’s people that teach skiing, you know there’s a whole ecosystem of people selling gasoline and beer, maids working in these houses and construction workers doing expansions and all kinds of stuff….” Baugh says. “[Residents have said] ‘please don’t dewater our lakes because we’ll lose property value significantly and our economy will go down the toilet.’”


Written by Marina Marquez.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the Guadalupe River is connected to the San Antonio River Walk.