Corp of Engineers annual information meeting held May 25

by Crystal Gottfried, Staff Writer

After presenting the "state of the Canyon Lake" report last Thursday night, Lake Manager Tim Horn found that the public had few questions.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers held its annual Public Information Meeting on May 25 with about thirty-five people, including several Comal County officials, in the audience at the Community Resource and Recreation Center in Sattler.

According to Horn, the lake level at 905.8 feet mean sea level was about 3.2 feet below normal, mainly due to drought conditions throughout the state. The water release rate at the dam was 134 cubic feet per second and would remain at that level during the Memorial Day weekend holiday.

Canyon Lake now has two permanent Natural Resource Specialists (Park Rangers) on staff, with one more expected on June 12. Park rangers received a technical job name change because they now do more than patrol COE parks. They resolve boundary issues and deal with environmental problems as well as a host of other jobs including cleaning bathrooms.

The Canyon Lake office also has two administrative assistants, with one on deployment in Iraq since 2005, a civil engineer technician and will employ five summer rangers to help during the heavy tourism months.

Recent dewatering and inspection of the stilling basin below the dam showed some erosion damage to the "baffle blocks" that aerate and break up the force of the water as it leaves the dam however, funding to repair this area is due shortly and the problem will be fixed.

The COE was able to raise the bulkheads for three courtesy docks, one each in Cranes Mill, Comal, and Canyon parks, to help keep them out of the water and to stay dry.

They have renovated the boat ramp parking lot in Cranes Mill Park and extended the concrete boat ramp there as well. The task order for flood debris removal from the 2002 flood has been obtained and the contractor's efforts are expected to include cleanup at the mouth of the Guadalupe River.

In Comal Park, the swimming area has been renovated with new pea gravel which is easier on swimmers feet, and the concrete on one boat ramp has been extended.

The COE at Canyon Lake participated in several national, regional and local outdoor programs last year.

National Public Lands Day last September with volunteers and Master Naturalists working on the Madrone Trail along with youth boot camp kids working in Canyon Park. The Challenged Sportsmen of American Deer Hunt last November in Canyon Park had nine participants who harvested fifteen deer.

Along with their Water Safety Program, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Expo in Austin, and the San Antonio Boat Show, COE staff spoke with numerous school groups, and made more than 5,400 public contacts last year.

The COE signed a lease for a new Comal County boat ramp on the north side of the lake at the end of Cranes Mill Road in the Mystic Shores area. Horn stressed that this new boat ramp will not be restricted and as a county boat ramp will be open to the public.

Also last year, the COE signed a lease with Guadalupe Blanco River Authority to develop the Canyon Gorge that was opened up by the floodwaters that topped the spillway in 2002 so that the public can get access to the geological sights that have enthralled scientific and university groups since its creation.

Horn said that GBRA has made a request for the COE to maintain a one foot seasonal/recreational pool in the lake at 910 feet msl from April to September. In a typical, not drought, year the COE would maintain the lake's level at 910 feet instead of 909 feet msl as they have done in the past for downstream recreation. He said that the Corps would have to conduct social and economic impact studies before this level change could become permanent and official. The studies have already begun and Horn expects that the results will be positive.

Other items during the presentation concerned the construction of a reinforcing concrete-filled trench along the spillway opening which must go all the way to Congress to be funded as well as the COE staff emergency operations deployments to oversee and inspect projects related to clean-up after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita last fall and the war on terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Horn related that the goals at the Canyon Lake Office were to "be prepared to move on upgrades and repairs whenever the funding becomes available."

"We have been making incremental improvements in the parks," he said, "and we will continue to be ready to work on these plans every time the money is there."

Horn said that his office would also like to expand their volunteer programs as well as develop partnerships such as the ones they have with GBRA for developing the gorge and with Texas Master Naturalists and Camino Real Mountain Bike Club who work to improve the hiking and biking trails around the lake and Guadalupe River.

GBRA Economic Manger Tommie Rhodes spoke about progress being made on the master plans for the gorge and the formation of a 501(c)(3) corporation called the Gorge Preservation Society which can pursue the grant funding that will pay for a park providing access to the public, as well as for scientific and educational groups to study the incredible geologic specimens there.

Comal County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Gregg Van de Loo reported that 40 deputies will be on patrol along the Guadalupe River and at Canyon Lake prepared to handle any problems that arise over the long Memorial Day weekend.

Some questions asked by those attending the meeting included missing low-water area buoys on Canyon Lake as well as extensions to county boat ramps so they can be used during drought periods when the lake level is lower than usual.

According to Horn, the closing elevation on the Cranes Mill Park boat ramp is around 902 feet msl, with closing elevations at Comal and Potters Creek Parks around 898 and 894 feet.

Three people were concerned about the lake level going down farther than usual because of GBRA's initial pumping from the lake last month.

Horn explained that the state's water permitting process with GBRA was developed through a cost-sharing partnership that was created when the dam was built. The water utility has paid annual maintenance costs on the dam since then. The Corps became the flood control managers.

Horn also said that the water being pumped from the lake hasn't had a significant impact on the lake's level so far.

"The capacity of the water treatment plant is about 14 cfs to 15 12 cfs," he said. "It's pretty minimal if we consider a water release of 133-134 cfs down the Guadalupe River to be a slow flow. We evaporate more water out of the lake than is being pumped."

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