Editor’s Note: This is the first of a series of stories that will explore the effects of the recent draining of Lake Dunlap.
Adolfo Castro hasn’t had running water in his home since Saturday.
Castro tries the tap, but nothing comes out.
“I’d offer you some water if I could, but...” he says, gesturing at the loudly gargling pipe. Not a drop drips from it.
Castro is one of the many whose life has changed since the spillgate failed on the Lake Dunlap Dam last Tuesday morning around 8 a.m., dumping thousands of gallons of water downstream at about 11,000 cubic feet per second.
“We’ve been here since 1976-1978, some of us before that, and we’ve never run into an issue where the water has not been in the river,” Castro said. “The elevation of that water being up depends on whether we have water in our wells or not … as soon as you pass River Bend, most of the homes down there are on private wells.”
Getting put into a main system or a meter would be costly — costs no one expected to have to pay, Castro said.
“They’re saying that the meter is going to be $5,000 and then the
and then the tie-in and digging on their property, so by the time you’re all said and done it could be anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000,” Castro said.
Castro said he’s reached out to the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority, asking if they’re going to help those who have no water on their properties since the dam broke, but was told no.
“I said, ‘Look, what do you expect us to do, this is our only water source, this is how we live out here with water. Do you expect us to move? Sell our property? Not live here because we don’t have water? Do you want us to go get it trucked in? Buy water everyday?’” Castro said. “They tell me, ‘GBRA, everybody had a meeting and the president said that they are not going to provide assistance to anyone,’ that it’s not their fault — they’re not going to do anything.”
Castro expects he and his family are just one of many experiencing this issue.
“We’re at the lowest source, so being at the lowest source, people above us should already be experiencing problems,” Castro said. “We’re getting caught blindsided and I don’t even know how my kids or I will be able to take showers unless they go to someone else’s house. We can’t flush the toilet, because we have no water.”
More than water drying up
The shores of Lake Dunlap aren’t the only thing that will dry up from the dam breaking — many business owners in the area worry their business will also dry up.
“Well, we’re pretty much primarily 80 percent based off of Lake Dunlap as far as customer base goes,” said J. Harmon, owner of The Boat Doctor, a boat and auto repair shop off of FM 725.
Harmon said come summer — which is only weeks away now — his business is definitely going to take a hit.
“People are going to be looking at their boats hanging in a lift, versus getting to use them or take them to another lake where they may be able to do something,” Harmon said.
A lot of people are calling Harmon saying their boat is stuck, asking if there’s anything that can be done, Harmon said.
“My own family is on the waterfront, and even when it happened the day of, within an hour’s time, we couldn’t even get the boats out after that,” Harmon said.
Standing on a private dock Saturday afternoon, Chris Varni talked with several of his neighbors and friends, trying to figure out how he could undock his boat — below which lies nothing but mud, dying mussels and sand.
“That’s Chris’ boat on the other side. It’s too high up and too dry down there to drop it down,” said Armando Aguilar, a resident on the shores of Lake Dunlap. “Maybe we can use a crane to get it out? Or trench it? But there’s definitely not enough water.”
Chris’ buddy Mark Sardelich looks out at the boat, and down into the mucky mud that’s replaced Lake Dunlap’s cool waters.
“I don’t see how this can’t be fixed quickly, the economic impact it will have here —” Sardelich says, breaking off. “GBRA has said you can’t be on anything but water with a vehicle, or you’re trespassing and they’ll cite you. So that’s leaving a lot of people not able to get their boats.”
River-fishing guide Ryan “Rhino” Haecker understands Varni and Harmon’s struggle — his boat docked at Lake Dunlap is also stuck.
“My boat’s hanging 12 feet out of the water, so yeah it affects my business — I can get $10,000 to $20,000 from that location per year,” Haecker said. “I’ve gotten a lot of emails and things about talking to the congressman and everything to try to move it along, so we’ll see what happens.”
Swatting at the six mosquitos swarming her, Meg Linley offers some natural mosquito spray.
“They’ve been so much worse since the lake has gone down — at least it seems that way,” Meg Linley said.
Followed by seven dogs — five beagles, a Chihuahua and a poodle mix, Jeff Linley, Meg’s husband, walks to the end of his yard — now edged by a hard mix of mud and sticks, rather than a beautiful lake.
“I’ve lived here for 25 years,” Jeff Linley said. “We don’t plan on selling, we just hope they get the lake back soon.”
Even now, they’re thinking about the future — and worrying.
“Not having a lake is novel, that’s for sure, and once it’s all dried out, there will be a lot of cleanup,” Jeff said. “I think I’m more worried about those retaining walls, especially those older ones, that were poured into the dirt. Once the dirt starts moving, then what?”
“I wonder what will happen to the pecan trees?” Meg said.
Crawfish crawled over the mud.
“It’s sad for the environment, too, you can see those are Zebra mussels right there, and honestly now is a good time to remove any hazards like those logs sticking up there,” Sardelich said.
The mussels smell as they dry out in the sun, mixing with the smell of damp earth and debris.
As an environmentalist and a fishing tour guide, Haecker said he expects the impact of the dam’s break to take several years for fish to recover.
“They’ll be in shock for a while,” he said. “What can you do? It happens, mother nature took its toll, that dam was old and it probably needed repairs.”