Source: The Texas Tribune
A judge temporarily blocked next week’s draining of four lakes in Guadalupe County in Central Texas, and the 90-year-old dams that support them, according to a court order.
Judge Stephen Ables issued the emergency order Wednesday as the court proceeding between the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority and homeowners along the lakes east of San Antonio continues. He will next decide whether to file a temporary injunction, which would extend Wednesday’s ruling until the case is resolved.
Homeowners, who got barely than a month’s notice that the lakes would be drained, said they felt blindsided by the plan that would lower their property values, kill their beloved century-old cypress trees and render the lakes unusable.
Doug Sutter, an attorney representing more than 300 lakefront property owners in the region, applauded the ruling and said it gives them more time to present evidence before the river authority can indefinitely drain the lakes without a plan to rebuild the dams that created them.
“If he hadn’t done that, then everything would’ve been mute. They would’ve drained them,” Sutter said.
The water authority announced last month that it would drain lakes Gonzales, McQueeney, Meadow and Placid over concerns that their dams would fail, since two already did. Patty Gonzales, a river authority spokesperson, said the dams are creating a safety hazard and could flood entire neighborhoods if they get any worse.
Previously, local officials in Guadalupe County offered an ordinance temporarily banning some use of the lakes, especially near the dams, while a plan was worked out to find funding for the dams’ floodgates to be replaced. David Wilborn, the Guadalupe County attorney, led the effort to present the ordinance that was ultimately ignored by the river authority. He declined to comment on this week’s ruling.
Issues with the Guadalupe River Valley dams began three years ago when a floodgate holding up Lake Wood failed. This was followed by a second floodgate failure on Lake Dunlap in May. Both of those lakes have already returned to their original channels. No repair work has been done to replace and refill either one.
After the second failure, the river authority scrambled to analyze the risks posed by the remaining dams and announced mid-August it would lower them. Representatives for the state agency said they lack the funding to replace the floodgates on the hydroelectric dams, which they can’t sell enough electricity from to be self-sustaining.
However, the river authority has known for years that the dams only had a lifespan of 75 years but failed to tell residents. Instead of searching for funding to replace them, the river authority performed just enough maintenance to keep them alive for as long as possible.
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