Frequently asked questions
Q: Does GBRA have to follow the prohibited and restricted areas as recommended by the Independent Expert Panel?
A: Yes. The findings of the Independent Expert Panel reinforce the safety risks posed by the aging dams, reaffirm and extend prohibited and restricted areas on the lakes, and enhance the ability for local law enforcement to criminalize violations of these restrictions. The restrictions implemented by the Independent Expert Panel enhance GBRA’s ability to ensure the safety of those on and around the lakes.
Q: How will the prohibited and restricted areas be enforced?
A: GBRA is working in partnership with local law enforcement authorities to monitor and enforce the prohibited and restricted areas, as outlined in the Independent Expert Panel report. Violations of the activity restrictions will be classified as a Class C misdemeanor and will carry a $500 fine.
Q: How does this report affect the long-term goal of repairing and replacing the dams?
A: The findings of the Independent Expert Panel reinforce the safety risks posed by the aging dams and aim to mitigate those risks by outlining prohibited and restricted areas. This does not reduce the imminence of another spillgate failure or the urgent need to identify funding for the necessary replacement of the dams. GBRA continues to be a collaborative partner in the effort to identify viable solutions for ensuring the long-term sustainability of the Guadalupe Valley Lakes and is working closely with the respective lake associations on solutions to address the necessary replacement of the dams.
Q: Will GBRA continue to maintain the dams in the interim?
A: While maintenance efforts extended the life of the dams beyond expectancy, third-party evaluations have deemed the condition of the dams unsafe for any maintenance and repair activities.
Q: What is the difference between prohibited and restricted unsafe zones?
Prohibited Unsafe Zone – this area is unsafe for ALL activities in the water (boating, canoeing, jet skiing, swimming, wading, tubing, etc.)
Restricted Unsafe Zone – this area is unsafe for activities IN the water (swimming, wading, tubing, etc.).
Please exercise caution at all times; nowhere in, on, or immediately adjacent to the water is 100 percent safe.
Q: Can my dogs swim in the prohibited or unrestricted unsafe zones?
A: No, the prohibited and unrestricted zones are not safe for swimming for either pets or humans. Please exercise caution at all times; nowhere in, on, or immediately adjacent to the water is 100 percent safe.
Q: If my boat is in a prohibited unsafe zone, can I still move it out of the water or to an unrestricted zone?
A: Limited boat access within the prohibited unsafe zone is allowed only by a written application request and approval by a GBRA permit. Additionally, a properly fitted Type I or Type III Personal Floatation Device (PFD) shall be worn at all times for activities on and in the water in this zone. To request a GBRA permit, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please exercise caution at all times; nowhere in, on, or immediately adjacent to the water is 100 percent safe.
Q: Can I continue to make improvements to my dock in the prohibited/restricted areas?
A: Limited access within the prohibited unsafe zone is allowed only by a written application request and approval by a GBRA permit. Additionally, a properly fitted Type I or Type III Personal Floatation Device (PFD) shall be worn at all times for activities on and in the water in this zone. To request a GBRA permit, please send an email to email@example.com.
Please exercise caution at all times; nowhere in, on, or immediately adjacent to the water is 100 percent safe.
Q: Who will patrol the prohibited and restricted unsafe zones?
A: GBRA and local law enforcement entities will continue to coordinate efforts to patrol the prohibited and restricted unsafe zones.
Q: Who is responsible for the dams?
A: The six hydroelectric dams along the Guadalupe River that create the Guadalupe Valley hydroelectric system and associated lakes are owned and operated by the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority (GBRA). GBRA took ownership of the dams in the 1960’s and has maintained them for more than 55 years. GBRA has been working in coordination with the surrounding communities – including the lake associations, as well as city and county officials – to determine the best course of action for the long-term sustainability of the dams.
Q: What is the issue with the dams?
A: The primary concern with the dams is spillgate failures. At more than 90 years old, the steel and wood spillgates have reached the end of their useful life. The causes of the spillgate failures that occurred at Lake Dunlap and Lake Wood were both due to two different failures in the original structural steel components.
Q: Are the dams failing due to lack of maintenance?
A: No. GBRA has been actively maintaining the dams for more than 55 years and has spent more than $25 million in repairs on all the hydroelectric dams, spillgates and associated system components. Additionally, major repairs were done to the dams following the floods of 1998 and 2002. The failures are due to the aging of the original structural steel components beyond viability.
Q: Who is responsible for replacing the dams?
A: With the dams no longer representing a viable source of revenue for GBRA, it will be a community effort to cover the cost of their necessary replacement.
Q: Who has GBRA consulted with on this issue and what are their roles?
A: GBRA continues to work closely with two nationally recognized engineering firms – Freese and Nichols, Inc. and Black & Veatch. Freese and Nichols, Inc. was hired before the spillgate failure at Lake Wood to provide a comprehensive evaluation of the dams. While some evaluation is still underway on Lake Dunlap, Freese and Nichols, Inc. has provided a comprehensive evaluation of the dams, including recommended options for replacement. Black & Veatch was hired to design replacement options for Lake Wood and Lake Dunlap. These designs are currently in progress.
Q: What is the useful life of a dam?
A: The useful life of dams of this size and style is typically between 50 and 75 years.
Q: If GBRA knew that the dams were reaching the end of their useful life, why was there no funding set aside for the replacement?
A: Since GBRA took ownership of the dams in 1963, all operational costs – including maintenance – has been paid for by revenue generated from hydroelectricity. Deregulation of the state’s electricity market in the early 2000’s and proliferation of natural gas drove down electricity costs, eliminating GBRA’s customer base and ability to generate sufficient revenue from the hydroelectric system. With hydroelectricity no longer representing a viable business enterprise for GBRA, the authority began to engage in conversations with the lake associations, as well as city and county officials about the future of the dams.
Q: Why were the dams not inspected to catch these issues?
A: GBRA conducted regular inspections of the dam and contracted with nationally-recognized engineering firm Freese and Nichols, Inc. in 2008 to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the dams, knowing they were nearing the end of their useful life. The Guadalupe Valley Lakes dams do not have a dewatering mechanism, which limits access to portions of the structure unless the lake is dewatered. The hinge that failed at Lake Dunlap was embedded in the concrete superstructure behind the spillgates.
Q: How often were inspections conducted?
A: GBRA conducted annual inspections of the dams. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) also conducted inspections every five years.
Q: Can the spillgates on the dams just be replaced with new parts of the same style?
A: The bear-trap style of the Guadalupe Valley Lakes dams are antiquated. To our knowledge there are only two similar style spillgates in operation worldwide. Additionally, the construction of the bear-trap style spillgates place many vital components in areas that are inaccessible for maintenance without completely dewatering the lakes. The bear-trap style spillgates have also proved inconsistent at maintaining a regular water level.
Q: Does the entire dam need to be replaced?
A: No. Current engineering assessments have determined that while the concrete substructure of each dam may need to be fortified, new spillgates could be retrofit to the existing concrete. The estimated cost of replacement for each of the dams also includes levee hardening, where necessary, pursuant to TECQ regulations.
Q: Did GBRA have a replacement plan for the dams?
A: GBRA contracted with nationally recognized engineering firm Freese and Nichols, Inc. in 2008 to conduct an assessment of the spillgates and make recommendations for replacement. GBRA also communicated the inevitability of the need for replacement and the inability for hydroelectricity to continue to serve as a viable business enterprise to the lake associations, as well as city and county officials.
Q: Can the hinges that failed at Lake Dunlap just be replaced?
A: No. The hinges that failed at Lake Dunlap are embedded into the concrete substructure behind the spillgates.
Q: What is the status of the repairs that have been taking place at Meadow Lake and Lake McQueeney?
A: Emergency repairs were initiated at each of the dams following the failure at Lake Wood to replace the tie bars on each of the spillgate. The failure of the tie bar section – which connects the upstream and downstream pieces of each spillgate together – was determined to be the cause of the Lake Wood failure. These repairs, which are completed by working going inside of the spillgates, were halted in the interest of worker safety following the Lake Dunlap failure. The Lake Dunlap failure was attributed to an entirely different set of original structural steel components than the tie bars being addressed by the emergency repairs.
Q: Did the engineering assessment look at all the hinges or just the worst one?
A: The Black & Veatch engineering assessment available on GVLakes.com is based on the destructive analysis of a hinge assembly from one of the spillgates at Lake Dunlap. The hinge assembly examined was intact and is not the hinge assembly that caused the spillgate failure. Based on inspections of the other spillgates, it was determined that the assessed hinge assembly is representative of the condition of the hinges at the other locations.
Q: At what point did GBRA abandon proper maintenance of the dams?
A: Maintenance of the dams was never abandoned. Maintenance efforts extended the life of the dams beyond expectancy, but the issue is that they have surpassed their useful age at more than 90 years old. Based on the condition of the dams, it is unsafe for any maintenance or repair work to continue.
Q: At what point was it decided never to rebuild the dams? Is that public record?
A: 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. Conversations surrounding the dams have centered on the fact their necessary spillgate replacement is not a feasible undertaking for GBRA alone, but will be a community effort.
Q: Can temporary dams be added in front of the existing dams to allow for their replacement?
A: GBRA is working closely with key stakeholders – including affected residents and property owners as well as state, county and city officials – to identify funding for the necessary replacement of the spillgates. The priority is finding a permanent solution that will ensure the sustainability and longevity of the Guadalupe Valley Lakes for generations to come. Temporary dam structures would divert funding from the necessary replacement while presenting additional safety and water flow concerns.
Q: Does GBRA receive public funds for the maintenance of the dams?
A: No. GBRA does not collect any tax revenues and does not receive any public funds to assist with the maintenance or operation of the hydroelectric dams.
Q: How does GBRA pay for the maintenance and operation of the dams?
A: GBRA currently pays for the maintenance and operation of the dams from the sale of hydroelectric power to the Guadalupe Valley Electric Coop (GVEC). Though this generates revenue, it isn’t enough to cover the cost of the maintenance and operation, resulting in an annual deficit.
Q: Can GBRA get more hydroelectricity customers or charge more to cover the cost of repairs or replacement?
A: State regulations restrict GBRA’s ability to charge enough in electricity rates to recover the costs of operating the hydroelectric system, much less generate additional revenue to cover maintenance and replacement. Additionally, deregulation of the state’s electricity market and proliferation of natural gas have further driven down electricity cost, eliminating GBRA’s customer base and ability to generate revenue from the hydroelectric system. Lacking efficiency and reliability, hydroelectricity is no longer a viable business enterprise for GBRA.
Q: Renewable energy is becoming increasingly popular, will there be future opportunities for GBRA to grow its hydroelectricity operation?
A: Despite the increasing popularity of renewable energy, GBRA’s hydroelectric operation has a very low capacity for electric production. Each of the dams is essentially equivalent to the output of a single wind turbine. Additionally, because the hydroelectric operation is entirely dependent on the flow of the water, it has little reliability as a consistent source of energy.
Q: What is the plan for funding the replacement of the dams?
A: Parties with vested interest in the long-term sustainability of the lakes – including the lake associations as well as the affected cities and counties – are working together to identify the best course of action for funding the necessary replacement of the dams. Current options include creating taxing districts to cover the cost of the debt service on a full dam replacement and the associated maintenance and operation costs.
Q: Can GBRA increase its other lines of business – like water and wastewater – to fund the dam replacements?
A: GBRA water and wastewater customers are not located around the Guadalupe Valley Lakes, so they receive no benefit from the dams. GBRA works to ensure that all its lines of business are self-sustaining and any money made from the water and wastewater services is put back into that line of business.
Q: Are there any grants or loans available from the federal or state government to assist with funding?
A: GBRA has conducted an exhaustive search to evaluate the available options. At this time there are no grant opportunities available for resolving these types of infrastructure problems. While there are available loans, taking a loan would require GBRA to demonstrate it has sufficient revenues to cover the repayment of the loan. GBRA’s revenues from hydroelectricity sales are not sufficient to finance the loan amounts needed for the maintenance and repair of the dams.
Q: Could FEMA flood relief programs be able to help finance this project?
A: The dams and spillgates were not designed as flood storage structures, so they do not qualify for any flood relief funding programs.
Q: Will the GBRA contribute any funding to the repair and replacement of the dams?
A: Upholding its commitment to being a good neighbor, the GBRA has committed to providing some funding to assist with the necessary replacement of the spillgates and the continued annual maintenance and operations cost of the dams.
Q: GBRA sells water from the lakes – those revenues should be used to replace the dams?
A: The Guadalupe Valley Lakes do not play a role in water storage.
Q: At what point did GBRA separate monies from hydroelectricity and water sales?
A: Revenue generated from hydroelectricity and water sales has always represented two separate lines of business. The Public Utilities Commission of Texas regulates water and wastewater rates. This governing body protects consumers by ensuring organizations are good stewards of ratepayer funds. Any money made from water and wastewater services is put back into that line of business. Any funds allotted to the dams from GBRA’s other lines of business would be challenged by ratepayers to the Public Utilities Commission.
Q: Does GBRA currently receive tax money?
A: No.GBRA does not receive any public funds for the maintenance or operation of the dams. Annual property taxes paid by residents on the lakes have never provided funding to maintain and operate the dams.
Q: What needs to happen for taxing districts to be created?
A: A proposed taxing district would need to be approved by voters before being put into effect.
Q: Who would be eligible to participate in a vote regarding the creation of the taxing districts?
A: The lake associations are working diligently with state and county officials to determine how a taxing district could be implemented, including who would be eligible to vote.
Q: What is GBRA’s role in creating taxing districts?
A: GBRA does not have the authority to create or implement a taxing district. We are supporting the lake associations as they work with city, county and state officials to explore the available options for creating taxing districts to fund dam replacement, as well as annual maintenance and operation costs.
Q: What are the current discussions surrounding taxing districts?
A: Key stakeholders, including the affected cities, counties and the lake associations are currently determining the best course of action on taxing districts. This includes discussion on whether the taxing district will be a large district encompassing all the lakes or whether it would be lake-specific. Regular committee meetings are being held between GBRA, the lake associations, city and county representatives and other key stakeholders to discuss options with the goal of answering these questions as a collective team.
Q: Who would own and operate the lakes and dams if taxing districts were created?
A: Specifics related to the taxing districts are still being determined.The dams can be sold to an appropriate representative, if taxing districts are created, or GBRA can remain the owner and operator of the dams, utilizing the taxing district funds to cover maintenance and operations costs.
Q: Do the dams serve a purpose in flood control?
A: No.The dams help to pass water downstream, but they do not serve a purpose in flood control.They do not have storage for flood waters or moderate their release.
Q: Why are the Guadalupe Valley Lakes not considered flood control lakes?
A: The Guadalupe Valley Lakes are often referred to as “constant-level” lakes, but really act as “pass-through” lakes. There is no room for temporary storage of flood waters in these lakes, so during a flood event all flood water is released from the dam at the same rate it flows into the lake upstream. Additionally, the Guadalupe Valley Lakes cannot moderate flood flows to minimize downstream impacts.
Q: How do spillgate failures pose a public safety risk?
A: There are several different ways in which the spillgates can fail and it is impossible to predict when or how failures may occur. There is also no effective way to warn anyone downstream of the dam of the surge of water that results from a spillgate failure. Anyone who may be on or in the direct vicinity of the dams at the time of a spillgate failure would be in danger, as well as anyone in and around the downstream area.
Q: How do you respond to those who say that the safety risk posed by these dams is being exaggerated?
A: Safety is our main concern. In addition to our in-house engineers, we have consulted with third-party engineering experts – including nationally recognized firms Freese and Nichols, Inc. and Black & Veatch – to assess the condition of the dams. Based on these assessments we can say with certainty that the dams are beyond their useful life and the original structural steel components are compromised. While it is impossible to predict when or how failures may occur, the failures at Lake Dunlap and Lake Wood reinforced the reality of the risk posed by these dams and the imminent need for replacement.
Q: Is GBRA’s concern for safety based on the unlikely scenario of all three spillgates of a dam failing simultaneously?
A: Our concern for safety is based on the unpredictable nature of spillgate failures. While the failure of three spillgates simultaneously would be a worst case scenario, the failure of a single spillgate poses an imminent risk to anyone on and around the dam.
Q: What is the Black & Veatch assessment based on?
A: Nationally-recognized engineering firm Black & Veatch conducted an assessment on a hinge removed from the failed spillgate at Lake Dunlap. The assessment was entirely based on the condition of the hinge and its likely indication of the condition of the same hinges in the other dams. Based on this assessment, Black & Veatch concluded the dams be taken out of operation.
Q: Is the water supply for GBRA’s customers secure?
A: Yes. The Guadalupe Valley Lakes do not store the water supply. GBRA’s water supply is stored in Canyon Lake.
Q: Is GBRA liable for potential damages for property due to a spillgate failure?
A: GBRA is not liable for potential damages to property as a result of a spillgate failure. All structures should be designed and constructed to withstand varying lake levels including high water elevations, fast moving water, and low lake levels for short or extended periods of time.
Q: Is GBRA responsible for the maintenance and repair of the dam at Canyon Lake?
A: No, the dam, lake and all adjacent property at Canyon Lake is managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. GBRA manages the water rights and is responsible for wastewater treatment.
Q: Why is GBRA’s office expansion on hold? When will it resume?
A: The situation with the Guadalupe Valley Lakes is a top priority for GBRA, in addition to maintaining its award-winning water and wastewater services. The planned office expansion is on hold to allow all staff to focus on the tasks at hand. A timeline for when this project will resume is yet to be determined.
Q: What is GBRA’s purpose aside from managing the hydrodams?
A: GBRA is primarily a purveyor of water and wastewater services. GBRA’s hydroelectricity operation represents less than five percent of the organization’s overall business.
Q: Will GBRA move its board meetings to a bigger venue?
A: GBRA is working to provide all those affected by the planned drawdown with multiple opportunities for asking questions and providing feedback. All board meetings are streamed live on both gbra.org and GVLakes.com. GBRA has also created GVLakes.com to serve as a hub of information for the community and established a dedicated email address – GVLakes@gbra.org– for affected residents to ask questions and provide feedback.
Q: Were cars towed from the GBRA board meeting?
A: Please be advised that parking for GBRA board meetings is limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis. GBRA does not contract with a towing company to remove cars parked on or off its property during board meetings, however, neighboring businesses will tow cars parked illegally on their property.
Q: Does GBRA provide water and wastewater services to those on and around the lakes?
A: No. Those on and around the lakes are not GBRA water or wastewater customers.
Who Do I Contact?
GBRA continues to work closely with the community to mitigate the impact of this decision by meeting regularly with the lake associations and is committed to remaining engaged and responsive. If you have a lake association, we encourage you to get involved with them as they are the best point of contact and source of information to ask questions and provide input about your specific lake.
GBRA has also established a dedicated email address to help streamline and prioritize communications with property owners and community members affected by this situation.
Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority