Editor note: This letter was written in response to Terence J. Fitzwater’s Publisher’s Perspective column titled “No question, GBRA must be eliminated” from the Aug. 29 edition of the “Gonzales Inquirer.”
The decision to drawdown the Guadalupe Valley Lakes has been immensely difficult and while we understand and respect the differing viewpoints on this issue, we feel it necessary to correct several factual inaccuracies presented in the Gonzales Inquirer’s Publishers Perspective column.
There are no statutory requirements surrounding the replacement of the hydroelectric dams that form the Guadalupe Valley Lakes. The dams are not flood control structures and the manmade lakes are not part of the watershed – they are purely recreational. Further, the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority (GBRA) is not a taxing entity and we do not receive any public funds for the maintenance and operation of the dams. We have covered all maintenance and operational costs associated with the dams using revenues generated from the hydroelectric system. GBRA remains invested in the dams and continues to serve as a partner in the long-term sustainability of these lakes simply because we understand their importance to the surrounding communities – we do not have any legal or statutory obligation to do so.
GBRA was not created in the 1920s and our primary purpose has never been restricted to hydroelectric power. The Guadalupe River Authority was first created in 1933 as a water conservation and reclamation district and a public corporation. It was reauthorized as the GBRA in 1935. GBRA’s primary purpose is to provide stewardship for water resources in the Guadalupe Valley Basin. Our nine water and 13 wastewater systems currently serve more than 350,000 people daily across our ten-county statutory district.
The hydroelectric dams were not built by GBRA. The six dams were built in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s – all were operational before GBRA was even formed. GBRA took over management of the dams on May 1, 1963. These dams have been regularly inspected and maintained by GBRA for more than 55 years – the issue is their age. Based on previous inspections and data on similar dam structures across the United States built during the same period, these dams are estimated to have a useful life of roughly 75 years. While GBRA’s maintenance efforts extended the life of the dams well beyond this estimate to more than 90 years old, evaluations have concluded that the structural steel components are compromised.
GBRA began to engage in conversations with key stakeholders – including the lake associations, as well as state, county, and city officials – about the future of the dams in the early 2000’s with the dams nearing the end of their useful life and the deregulation of the state’s electricity market supplanting the hydroelectric operation. Completing the necessary replacement of these dams is not a feasible undertaking for GBRA alone. This will be a community endeavor and we are working collectively with key stakeholders and affected residents to identify and fund a long-term solution.
We know this decision is difficult to accept, but one that we feel is unavoidable due to the hazards posed by these dams. We hope that as we continue to come together and work collaboratively to ensure the long-term health and prosperity of the Guadalupe Valley Lakes and their surrounding communities that we not be deterred by misleading or incorrect information regarding GBRA or our role in this process.