USACE, GBRA host Canyon Dam and Reservoir’s 50 year anniversary celebration

Marcus Schimank, Canyon Lake Manager facilitates the transfer of the control of the gates at Canyon Dam from the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers May 20, 2016 the day before the Canyon Dam and Reservoir 50th Anniversary Recognition Ceremony.

Marcus Schimank, Canyon Lake Manager facilitates the transfer of the control of the gates at Canyon Dam from the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers May 20, 2016 the day before the Canyon Dam and Reservoir 50th Anniversary Recognition Ceremony.

Col. Calvin C. Hudson II, commander, Fort Worth District highlighted the importance of people and partnerships for the success of Canyon Dam and Reservoir during the 50th Anniversary of the structure.

Col. Calvin C. Hudson II, commander, Fort Worth District highlighted the importance of people and partnerships for the success of Canyon Dam and Reservoir during the 50th Anniversary of the structure.

Story and photos by Edward Rivera
Fort Worth District Public Affairs

An overcast Saturday morning with a slight breeze coming off the lake tempered the rising humidity. As guests took their seats and speakers prepared to make their remarks it would be fitting the turbine engine like whir of water being released from the dam at 4,700 cubic feet per second would preside over the celebratory event marking the Canyon Dam and Reservoir’s 50 years of service.

The golden anniversary celebration hosted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority marked a half century from its dedication in 1966 of flood damage reduction, water supply and recreation for an area known as the Water Recreation Capital of Texas. But the story of Canyon Dam and Reservoir goes back further to the beginning of the 20th Century.

In the early 1900s, the lower Guadalupe River Basin below the current location of Canyon Lake had experienced serious flooding. Following major floods on the Guadalupe River in 1936 and 1938, state and community leaders aggressively lobbied the federal government to help control the river’s flooding.

“In 1939, the Secretary of War recommended to the Speaker of the House the adoption of $9 million for improvements to the Guadalupe River to include the Canyon project said Rep. Lamar Smith as he spoke to more than 200 attendees at the event. “However the looming war in Europe diverted Congress’ attention from the project.”

It wasn’t until the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1945 that Congress authorized initial funds for construction of a dam with final approval coming within the Flood Control Act of 1954.

Jimmy Baggett, assistant chief, Engineering and Construction Division for the District recalls the difficulty of access while performing the site survey on the areas prairie and Hill Country terrain in 1956.

“The summer heat was sweltering and the trees and vegetation was dense,” said the 60 year Corps team member. The contours were steep and made line of site scoping difficult.”

Construction of Canyon Dam began in 1958 to provide both flood control and water conservation. Impoundment of the lake began in 1964. The dam was dedicated in 1966 and the lake was filled to its conservation level in 1968.

In 1989 GBRA began operation of a six-megawatt hydroelectric plant adjacent to the Canyon Dam discharge channel. The plant operates through a license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, with permits from Texas Commission for Environmental Quality and the Corps. The plant uses natural flows of the Guadalupe River as passed through Canyon Dam to provide electricity, through New Braunfels Utilities, to residents of the City of New Braunfels.

Although the celebration was to commemorate the structure and what it has meant to the downstream communities in flood damage reduction, water supply, hydropower and recreation, the focus was on the people that in one way or another contributed to the building, operating and maintaining of the project.

“Since its construction Canyon Dam has worked as designed, but no multi-purpose reservoir can maintain itself,” said Col. Calvin C. Hudson II, commander, Fort Worth District. “It takes dedicated professionals with genuine love for what they do and caring about the quality of the experience our visitors have at these projects.”

Hudson went on to highlight several of the many District members that supported the projects missions. Robert C. Chapman, who as the first Little River Project operations manager facilitating the inclusion of Canyon Lake in the Little River Project in 1995. The expansion resulted in a regional responsibility of five reservoirs, more than 50 employees, and full execution of a $9 million budget.

He recognized Lake Manager Jerry D. Brite, one of the longest serving managers at Canyon Lake, who served from October 1986 through April 2003 and Paul Rodman, District Chief Reservoir Officer.

“Their efforts were instrumental in facilitating seamless and responsive coordination with the District Headquarters, GBRA and the local community in July 2002 when the water level at Canyon Lake reached 943 feet above sea level and began emptying through the spillway,” said Hudson. “This was the first time floodwater had ever gone over the spillway since the dam’s completion in 1964.”

He applauded dedicated employees like Judy Scott, who started her career at Canyon Lake as a park ranger, recreation specialist and would eventually become a lake manager and asked project employees past and present to stand to be recognized by the attendees.

Canyon Dam provides flood damage reduction to seven downstream counties. It was built at a cost of about $20 million. Although the project has experienced major flood events during its 50 years, that investment, has prevented nearly $1.2 billion in flood damages according to Corps estimates.

“Providing flood risk management for life safety, protecting public resources and providing outdoor recreation opportunities that enhance quality of life are missions and responsibilities we will continue to provide.”

Canyon Lake visitation ranges from 800,000 to one million visitors annually. The weather, economy and lake level are all contributing factors. The impact on the local economy is significant. The water resources of Canyon Lake, known as the “Jewel of the Hill Country,” along with the Guadalupe and Comal Rivers has an estimated $550 million annual economic impact due to tourism which is largely water related.

“We have over 125,000 people in this count. We have over a million people that count on this lake,” said State Rep. Doug Miller at the ceremony. “This lake wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for this dam.”

Hudson emphasized no USACE multi-purpose lake project like Canyon Dam and Reservoir can be successful without strong partnerships with stakeholders, local business and recreating community.

“Our water partner, the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority is the local agency with rights to the water in the conservation pool of the lake. Through people like Bill West, GBRA General Manager and the many people at the Authority, we hope to continue building upon our great partnership with them and each entity and agency that has been part of the success of Canyon Lake,” said Hudson.

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