Portions of four lakes on the Guadalupe River in Guadalupe and Gonzales counties are open again, with some areas near the dams still restricted after a panel of engineers weighed in on dam safety.
The report released Monday by three engineers detailed areas deemed safe for swimming and boating, as well as some areas where the threat of a dam failure and the resulting fast currents still posed hazards for recreation. The areas the panel deemed unsafe are much less extensive than those proposed by the Guadalupe Blanco-River Authority earlier this year when it said the lakes would have to be drained.
“We all agree there’s safety concerns, but we’ve right-sized those safety concerns,” said Tess Coody-Anders, a Trinity University vice president of communications who has been serving as a spokeswoman for the Save Our Lakes coalition, made up of multiple lakefront property owners groups.
The panel included one expert chosen by the property owners, one chosen by the GBRA, and one selected by both parties as a result. The lakes were temporarily closed to recreation on Sept. 16 as the result of a court fight between the GBRA, which owns the roughly 90-year-old dams, and lakefront property owners, who fought to keep water in the lakes.
Many in the region feared that closing the lakes would cause irreparable economic harm to the region, where lakefront properties form some of the most valuable real estate and contribute significantly to local governments’ tax base.
“Understanding that nowhere in, on, or immediately adjacent to the water can be deemed 100 percent safe, the … report affirms the prohibited areas already established surrounding the dams and extends protections by outlining additional restricted areas,” GBRA officials said in a prepared statement.
The panel broke down parts of the lake into “prohibited unsafe zones,” which are unsafe for all water sports – boating, canoeing, jet skiing, swimming, wading, and tubing – and “restricted unsafe zones,” which are considered unsafe for swimming and tubing. The portions of the lakes not deemed prohibited or restricted automatically reopened when the panel released its report, according to the GBRA.
GBRA officials said they will begin implementing additional signs and buoys around the lakes, continue to monitor the prohibited areas surrounding each dam, and coordinate with local law enforcement to enforce the restrictions.
Receive updates on the local impact of coronavirus in your inbox every morning.
The lawsuit came after the GBRA earlier this year said it would drain the lakes following the May failure of a spillgate on the dam impounding Lake Dunlap. Property owners settled with the GBRA to delay a possible trial by one year while both sides find ways to pay to replace or repair the dams.
“GBRA is committed to being a good neighbor and serving as a collaborative partner in the effort to identify viable solutions for ensuring the long-term sustainability of the Guadalupe Valley Lakes,” the GBRA statement reads. “We continue to work closely with the respective lake associations as part of the collective effort to address the necessary replacement of the spillgates.”
The reopening comes after peak boating season on the lake has ended, though many are optimistic a long-term solution can be found. One idea involves creating new taxing districts to pay for dam repair. Coody-Anders said she’s been impressed with the lakefront associations’ leadership for engaging experts to help them understand how to best keep the lakes full.
“Each lake association is looking for other ways to share solutions but also looking at ways we need to address individual challenges,” Coody-Anders said.