Dam limbo

No fix in sight for Lake Wood spillway


Lake Wood should now be known as lake of woods.

A small forest has reclaimed the once-submerged land where just a few years back a shallow lake lapped at a levied shoreline that both anglers and recreation seekers loved. Now, willows and sycamores have moved back to the alluvial bottom that feels safe to walk on but still too soft for driving.

And that wouldn't be a good idea either, since the land is owned by the Guadalupe Blanco River Authority (GBRA), the government entity that owns the damaged dam and controls the water that spills over it, along with a host of other dams up the watershed.

When the dam failed in March 2016, officials held a press conference near the spillway, where many local lakeside residents gathered to hear of the plans for its rehabilitation. The utility's general manager at the time, Bill West, placed a timeline of six months for a fix, but also warned that all repair options would have to be handled by the GBRA's board of directors. He hinted that the multi-million dollar fix might not be so quick.

“We'll get the lake back in operation as soon as possible,” he said at the time.

But after nearly three years, money has not become available for repairs and none appear to be growing on those trees, either. Thus, there is no timeline to replace the aged wooden gate. The lake remains empty, area residents are frustrated, and GBRA is unable to generate what little electricity the dam provided.

But, catfish are still being caught below the dam, as seen by recent photos at the general store that used to stand guard over the lake's boat ramp. The ramp is now a dry ditch, but the store still sales passes for campers and day players.

GBRA officials said earlier this year that engineers had been hired to find a way to replace the old, wooden “bear trap” style gate that had serviced the dam since the 1920s. They had decided that a hydraulic actuated crest replacement gate would be the best option.

“Availability of funding has a direct impact on GBRA’s ability to move forward with construction and installation of the hydraulically actuated crest replacement gate; however, the replacement of the Lake Wood gate remains a priority,” the utility said in a statement. “GBRA’s intent, with possible additional repairs and maintenance, is to allow for a more planned and scheduled replacement process for the entire system of 15 spill gates across all GBRA dams.”

The Lake Wood mishap seemed to spur officials into action on their other aged structures. They put into the pipeline repairs for the other gates at GBRA controlled dams, such as the ones at Meadow Lake, Lake Placid, Lake McQueeney, and Lake Gonzales.

Repairs on those began this past summer. But the old H5 dam still sits, awaiting a much costlier fix. Since electricity generation is not the main revenue maker that it once was, funding to repair the gate will have to come from elsewhere. So far, that source has yet to be determined. But a design is being drawn for the replacement gate, and those designs are set to be complete this spring.

“Funding for construction continues to be a challenge since the existing revenue generated from the system does not cover existing operational costs or gate replacement costs,” a GBRA rep told the Inquirer last week. “Other sustainable revenue sources must be secured to pay for the replacement gates before any construction activities can begin.”

Even if construction began tomorrow, construction is estimated to last two years. Imagine how large that little forest will be by then.