A shifting of priorities alongside the Guadalupe River within the early 2000s set the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority on a path that led to the controversial plan to empty 4 lakes in Guadalupe and Gonzales counties, in line with a former river authority official.
In Guadalupe County courtroom on Wednesday, a former Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority government supervisor testified shifting of senior water rights into Canyon Lake left six lakes decrease down within the river basin with out sufficient dependable water to provide sufficient income from energy era to pay for the substitute of the dams.
Associated: 4 Lakes on Guadalupe River to Be Drained to Keep away from Dam Failure
The GBRA’s announcement final month that it plans to attract down the 4 remaining lakes brought about an uproar within the communities which have sprouted up alongside the lakes and the 90-year-old dams that maintain again the water. The GBRA bought the whole lake and dam system within the 1960s to reap the income from the hydroelectric energy generated by the dams, which had been constructed within the 1920s and 1930s.
GBRA officers now say the lake “dewatering” is a matter of security. A spillgate on the dam that varieties Lake Dunlap failed in Could, following a earlier spillgate failure at Lake Wooden in 2016.
James Murphy, a water lawyer and former administrative legislation choose who served because the GBRA’s deputy supervisor from 2008 to 2016, mentioned Wednesday the state of affairs may have been averted. If the river authority hadn’t moved the water rights roughly 15 years in the past, it may have ensured sufficient dependable circulate could be within the river to generate sufficient energy – and income – to interchange the dams, he mentioned.
“Now we have an obligation to these lakes,” Murphy mentioned, testifying on behalf of a bunch of almost 300 lakeside residents suing the GBRA to cease the drain. “What we did was promote their solely beneficial asset.”
The transfer successfully doubled the quantity of consuming water accessible from Canyon Lake, now a big water supply for fast-growing communities from New Braunfels to Boerne. Although the GBRA is headquartered in Seguin and has shut historic ties to the hydropower lakes, Murphy mentioned the authority was irresistibly drawn into changing into a water provider to the high-growth areas on the sting of the Texas Hill Nation.
Associated: Choose Hits Pause on Guadalupe River Lake Drain
However Jonathan Stinson, the GBRA’s deputy supervisor since 2016 and a former assistant government administrator on the Texas Water Growth Board, mentioned there’s no approach the hydropower dams within the Guadalupe River valley could make sufficient cash to pay for replacements. The GBRA estimates changing them would price between $15 million and $35 million per dam. Hydropower earned the GBRA solely a median of roughly $2.6 million per 12 months over the past 10 years, in line with the river authority.
Restrictions on how the water within the lakes may have been used additionally meant the GBRA couldn’t have made cash promoting the water for municipal use or to farmers, in line with Stinson and former GBRA officers. And in contrast to different river authorities, such because the San Antonio River Authority, state legislation doesn’t enable the GBRA to evaluate taxes.
Protecting the water rights within the hydropower lakes “wouldn’t have modified the place we at the moment are,” Stinson mentioned.
How To Transfer Water Rights
To grasp the GBRA’s water shuffle, you first have to know how water rights work in Texas.
In Texas, all water in rivers and lakes belongs to the general public, however the precise to withdraw a specific amount per 12 months will be assigned to those that need to put it to good use. Since there’s a restricted quantity of water in a river throughout drought instances, water will get allotted on a first-come, first-served foundation. The rights to the quantity of water initially saved within the GBRA’s six hydropower lakes date again to 1914 and 1926, in line with the GBRA.
As a result of the precise to make use of water is taken into account a property proper, all types of mechanisms exist that enable water rights to be purchased, offered, and bartered. Within the GBRA’s case, the plan was to take the water rights related to the hydropower lakes and basically transfer them roughly 20 miles northward into Canyon Lake, a significant reservoir on the Guadalupe River in Comal County.
This allowed extra water out of Canyon Lake to be offered to rising cities and suburbs within the San Antonio-New Braunfels space, the place demand for water grew quick within the early 2000s, Murphy mentioned.
Canyon Lake, accomplished in 1964, is a joint undertaking of the GBRA and the U.S. Military Corps of Engineers. The federal authorities owns the dam that varieties the lake and the reservoir, however the GBRA has the rights to promote many of the water and pays 35 % of the debt on the dam.
Shifting the senior water rights doubled the quantity of water that could possibly be offered from Canyon Lake from 45,000 acre-feet per 12 months to 90,000 acre-feet per 12 months, Murphy mentioned. One acre-foot is 325,851 gallons – sufficient to produce roughly 700 San Antonio households for a day.
The San Antonio Water System is one purchaser of water from Canyon Lake. In 2006, a couple of years after the water rights had been moved to Canyon Lake, SAWS started buying 9,000 acre-feet per 12 months.
As Murphy tells it, this was all a part of a shift within the GBRA’s focus in the direction of the suburbs and metro areas and away from the smaller downstream communities and agricultural customers alongside its basin.
“There are in actuality three GBRAs,” Murphy mentioned in a ready testimony earlier than the Texas Legislature in April. “One represents city development between Austin and San Antonio, one other represents the Texas Hill Nation, whereas a 3rd represents each rural areas and the quickly industrializing Gulf Coast.”
Underneath former GBRA Normal Supervisor Invoice West Jr., whose 23 years on the river authority resulted in 2016, the GBRA “struggled mightily to stability these pursuits,” Murphy mentioned.
“The Interstate 35 hall between Austin and San Antonio is among the quickest development areas within the nation,” Murphy advised the Texas Home Pure Useful resource Committee. “Cash talks loudly in terms of actual property. Speculative demand and related political strain pressured GBRA to direct inordinate consideration to this area.”
Scott Ball / Rivard Report
Reached by telephone Friday, West contradicted Murphy’s evaluation of whether or not the dams may have made extra money. Those that use water out of Canyon Lake aren’t utilizing the total quantity they’ve been allotted, so transferring the water rights has had no impact to date on how a lot energy the downstream dams can generate, West mentioned.
“There’s no query that the cash derived from the ability produced from the [hydroelectric dams] is an actual problem,” West mentioned. “And solely in an actual moist 12 months do you get into the black and make some cash.”
No Simple Repair in Sight
Regardless of the completely different conclusions about what led the river authority to the lake draining determination, nobody appears to have a simple repair for producing sufficient cash to rebuild the dams and hold the lakes full.
Even with the lawsuits pending, the river authority appears centered on plans by some members of the Associates of Lake McQueeney group and the Protect Lake Dunlap Affiliation to create a brand new taxing district to pay for dam repairs.
That might contain levying a property tax on lakeside residents, who presently get pleasure from the advantages of dwelling on the lakes however haven’t financially contributed to the dams’ maintenance.
Bob Value, a member of the Associates of Lake McQueeney who additionally testified in courtroom Wednesday, mentioned that after the failure of the Dunlap spillgate, members of the group have set to work creating such a district and hope to have residents in affected counties vote in Could on bonds crucial to repair the dams.
Stinson described these new property taxes, GBRA funding, and grant cash from the state or federal authorities as a “three-legged stool” that would assist fund dam substitute.
In his testimony, Value decried the way in which that GBRA has dealt with the choice to empty the lakes. Greater than 1,400 property house owners discovered concerning the transfer in August after they obtained letters from the GBRA saying draining was to begin Monday. A choose has quickly barred the GBRA from opening the spillgates pending the preliminary salvos in two separate lawsuits.
“All I can inform you is we had been shocked,” Value mentioned. “We actually thought we had been transferring considerably down the trail of developing with funding for the lakes.”
Proceedings are anticipated to renew Monday in district courtroom in Guadalupe County.
Correction: This text has been up to date to appropriate the previous title of James Murphy in his function on the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority.