Another dam failure

One of Lake Dunlap spill gates collapses, causing hazardous conditions on the Guadalupe River in Gonzales area

GBRA experienced a spillgate failure Tuesday morning, May 14. This video shows the precise moment the middle gate collapsed resulting in the dewatering of Lake Dunlap. GBRA will provide periodic updates regarding recreational, safety or water supply issues.
Courtesy video from the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority

The Lake Dunlap Dam, located near New Braunfels and operated by the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority (GBRA,) experienced a massive spill gate failure at approximately 8 a.m. on Tuesday, May 14.

The dam failure happened when one of the spill gates completely collapsed into the Guadalupe River, causing the lake to begin emptying and creating potentially hazardous conditions on the Guadalupe River.

Patty Gonzales, GBRA communications manager, warned of dangerous river conditions for recreationists with passing river flows of approximately 11,000 cubic feet per second.

However, she said the GBRA do not expect flooding in Gonzales. They urged stakeholders to take measures to secure “boats and other recreational property.”

The dam failure was the second catastrophic failure of a dam spill gate in the GBRA in the past three years. In 2016, the spill gate at dam number five, or Lake Wood, collapsed and emptied the lake behind it.

The Lake Wood dam has never been rebuilt by the GBRA, and property owners of Lake Dunlap are concerned they are about to suffer the same fate as the property owners of Lake Wood. The GBRA has been seriously criticized by not only property owners on the river, but also the state’s powerful Sunset Commission. In 2018, the Sunset Commission condemned the GBRA’s management practices for failing to provide an institutional plan to maintain and repair its infrastructure, citing the Lake Wood dam failure as just one instance in a series of institutional failures.

On Wednesday, over 20 property owners of Lake Dunlap—many of them members of the Lake Dunlap Association—attended the GBRA regularly scheduled meeting in Seguin to hear what the GBRA had to say about the spill gate failure and what they intended to do about repairing their lake.

The GBRA opened the meeting with a discussion of the spill gate collapse and showed the audience a video of the spill gate collapsing forward and tumbling into the river under the pressure of the water in Lake Dunlap. After the video was shown, members of the GBRA board and management said that it was going “to take weeks” to drain the lake, assess the damage, and then figure out what steps to take.

This did not please anyone from Lake Dunlap.

“I think this puts us in the same category as the people who lived on the former Lake Wood,” said one Lake Dunlap Association member who asked not to be identified. “This board (GBRA) is not concerned about our property, the property values or our recreational use of the lake for boating and fishing. All they care about is who they are selling water to and how much they are getting for the sale of that water. Today, when they found out they were not selling any water out of Lake Dunlap they just pounded the gavel and moved on to another subject.”

A few members of the Lake Wood Association were at Wednesday’s meeting, including president Joe Solansky, and he was asked afterwards by the Lake Dunlap property owners what issues they would be facing and what steps they might take to turn the heat up on the GBRA to do what they were statutorily mandated to do.

“Well, good luck is all I can say,” Solansky told them. “They told us it would be six months and our dam would be fixed and it’s three years later and they still don’t have a plan to fix our dam.”

Solansky encouraged them to contact their legislators and offered a small amount of encouragement when he told them about legislation that is about to be passed in the Texas legislature.

“Representative Cyrier has told us he has passed legislation that would earmark sales tax funds from the sale of certain sporting goods equipment that would be ear-marked for the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife and the historic commission.

“These funds could be used to help restore state-owned lands that need rebuilding. They have identified Lake Wood as one of those. There are other issues that need to be addressed, but at least there is hope.

“Of course, the voters have to approve this (sales tax issue) on the November ballot.”

The Lake Dunlap Association has called an emergency meeting to discuss next steps following the second collapse of a dam in its Authority territory. One woman suggested asking the GBRA to hold off spending over $6.8 million dollars to construct a new building in New Braunfels and apply that money towards fixing the dam.

The Gonzales Inquirer has also learned that legislators in Austin were very disturbed to learn of this new failure, and have told concerned parties that this “gives the GBRA a very black eye” in Austin.