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Second meeting on private dam will be closer to Highland Lakes

Llano County Commissioner Jerry Don Moss

Llano County Commissioner Jerry Don Moss (in cowboy hat) makes a comment to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality during a public meeting regarding the permit application to build a private recreational dam across the South Llano River. Moss and an estimated 185 other Highland Lakes residents voiced their opposition to the dam during the Aug. 10 hearing in Rocksprings. Photo by Ron Cunningham

A second public meeting on the permit application for a private dam on the South Llano River will be closer to the Highland Lakes after the area’s residents flooded an initial meeting on Aug. 10 held some 125 miles away in Rocksprings in Edwards County. 

An estimated 187 people, including Llano County and city of Llano officials and Central Texas water conservation advocates, turned out to oppose the permit for the dam, which would create a 12.02 acre-foot reservoir for private recreational use. The Texas Commission for Environmental Quality has not yet set a date or location for the next meeting. The meetings are part of the TCEQ’s procedure for permit approval.

Highland Lakes residents who attended the Rocksprings meeting asked that the dam permit not be approved for the sake of maintaining the Llano River as a viable water source for the communities that rely on it. While the dam would be located at the headwaters of the South Llano River in Edwards County, the greatest impact would be felt by people downstream in Kimble, Mason, Llano, Burnet, and Travis counties. 

Llano County Judge Ron Cunningham and state Rep. Andrew Murr (R-Junction) both submitted letters to the TCEQ requesting a second meeting in Llano, a city that might have the most at stake when it comes to the dam. Llano is 100 percent dependent on the Llano River for water.

“Protecting our only source of water is critical to all of us,” Llano Mayor Marion Bishop said during the meeting’s public comment period. “It is imperative that the agencies in charge consider the needs of the thousands of people downstream who depend on this source of water. We believe that granting any additional private reservoirs should be avoided to preserve the precious, limited quantity of water in the Llano River.”

Waterstone Creek LLC applied for the dam permit in September 2018. TCEQ declared the permit administratively complete in January 2019. A technical review was done and public notice of the application posted in a small Rocksprings newspaper, the Mohair Weekly, on May 12, 2022.

The company and the land are owned by Gregory C. Garland, the executive chairman and former CEO of petroleum mega-corporation Phillips 66. 

The TCEQ received over 1,000 comments in opposition to the permit leading up to the Aug. 10 meeting. A petition organized by the Llano River Watershed Alliance has received more than 4,500 signatures from people against the dam. 

Every community between Llano and Austin relies on the Llano River to some extent. As of now, it is the only source of flowing water pouring into the Highland Lakes, according to the Lower Colorado River Authority’s Hydromet software.

Llano County residents organized prior to the Aug. 10 meeting, making sure to wear white shirts as a visual representation of their affiliation. One Llano resident who spoke made a salient point that drew applause and cheers from the audience.

“As a person who lives in a little house, on a little lot, in the city of Llano, would I be qualified to object?” Paula Graham asked TCEQ representatives.

“It depends on what interests you have,” responded Cole Malley, an attorney with the TCEQ.

“I drink water,” she replied.

Cunningham, the Llano County judge, voiced his personal and public opposition to the dam. The Llano County Commissioners Court originally declared its opposition in June 2022. The judge went on to request a contested case hearing on the application, which would lead to a sort of trial on the permit request if approved.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department also raised concerns about the dam. 

“The proposed dam and impoundment would have negative impacts to downstream flows affecting fish, freshwater mussels, and recreation on the South Llano River and the Llano River downstream,” reads an Aug. 10 letter from TPWD Water Resources Program Coordinator Marty Kelly to TCEQ Chief Clerk Laurie Gharis. “As the agency with primary responsibility for protecting the state’s fish and wildlife resources, we are concerned about possible negative impacts to the health and longevity of these natural resources for the enjoyment of the people of Texas.”

The meeting didn’t result in a solid conclusion beyond the guarantee of another one to be held closer to Highland Lakes residents. All 1,212 public comments to the TCEQ in opposition to the dam can be found online. Learn more about the dam and its potential impacts on the Llano River Watershed Alliance website

1 thought on “Second meeting on private dam will be closer to Highland Lakes

  1. Wow. In a drought year, a wealthy, influential dynasty builder owning land upriver plans to deprive all the little people downstream of their natural water supply so he can have a personal swimming hole. How many times have we seen this movie? Who will play John Wayne or Clint Eastwood, ride in on a white horse, and protect the citizens’ natural rights? Has anybody launched a letter campaign to talk sense to the rich guy?

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