NEW BRAUNFELS — Area officials Thursday celebrated the long-awaited completion of a huge new flood-control dam south of town that will help protect both nearby homes and downstream residents on the Guadalupe River.
“We're pretty excited to be here,” Comal County Judge Sherman Krause told the crowd of about 60 gathered atop what's officially called the Dry Comal Creek Flood Retarding Structure.
Its construction was prompted by severe flooding in 1998 that caused more than $1 billion in property damage and took 29 lives in South Texas.
The project had seemed snake-bitten, coming in at a higher cost and later than originally planned due to a host of issues, including the replacement of the original contractor and engineer.
Years were spent studying the environmental impact of the dam in Krueger Canyon, considered prime golden-cheeked warbler habitat.
The endangered bird's presence was a factor in designing the dam with a 5-by-6-foot culvert through which creek waters can always flow in wetter times.
The dam can hold back up to 938 million gallons during heavy rains, though the limited culvert flow will continue.
Unforeseen soil conditions also forced a redesign that involved excavating a trench along the dam's entire length — up to 123 feet deep — which was filled with concrete to prevent floodwaters from undercutting it.
“There were a lot of hurdles along the way, but we just kept going and finally got the thing built,” Comal County Engineer Tom Hornseth said.
Four other dams were proposed for upstream of New Braunfels after the 1998 flood.
“I certainly hope we will have some more,” said New Braunfels Mayor Gale Pospisil, who expressed amazement at the new dam's size.
Although the only water visible behind the dam Thursday was a puddle, she knows too well the potential for disaster when rains swell the Guadalupe River and its tributaries.
New Braunfels paid $1.5 million toward the $19.2 million project About $12 million came from grants, but federal authorities now are trying to reclaim $7 million awarded for it.
Guadalupe County is expected to pitch in $500,000, said Guadalupe County Commissioner Greg Seidenberger, noting: “Anything we can do to mitigate floodwaters and to protect people, property and livestock downstream is great.”
The project was made possible by easements granted for it by Holcim (US) Inc., the landowner, said Krause, who also praised the engineering work of Freese and Nichols Inc., and ASI Constructors, the builder.
Among those on hand Thursday was former Comal County Judge Danny Scheel, who recalled traveling long ago to Michigan to seek Holcim's easement.
“It seems like a lifetime since we started this project back in 1999,” he said. “Now, to see it finally in its completed state is unbelievable.”