U.S. Rep. Bill Flores is confident that the Lake Waco Dam is safe and that the parks will be restored once the water goes down, the congressman said after touring the flooded lake this past weekend.
Flores, R-Bryan, spent about three hours at the lake Saturday with officials from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Waco-McLennan County Office of Emergency Management.
He got a look at a 300-foot-long section of earth on the backside of the dam that slid during heavy rains in late May. Corps officials are still assessing the damage, but they say it appears to be only about 4 feet deep and poses no threat to the public. Flores said he hopes it can be repaired quickly.
“The damage doesn’t appear to be structural,” Flores said. “There’s still a lot of engineering work that has to be done, but it will likely will fit within the Corps’ current budget. . . . The damage seems to be modest, but it’s not something that can go unresolved.”
Flores said he saw “substantial” damage to recreational facilities at the Corps parks, which are largely underwater as the lake remains 18 feet above its normal elevation of 462 feet.
The lake level stood around 480 feet Monday, down about 4.5 feet from its peak June 7. Pavilions, playgrounds, ramps, beaches, roads and campsites remain flooded.
“I think we’ll find money for repairing them,” Flores said in a Monday interview. “The real wild card is that we have no idea what the repairs will cost. We don’t know what the damage is. They will take weeks to dry out.”
Flores said he is confident the Corps can find money to repair the lake parks, preferably within its normal budget.
He said he will follow up with Corps officials on the progress of the repairs.
Waco Deputy City Manager Wiley Stem said fixing the parks is a high priority for Waco leaders.
“I know Lake Waco has a significant economic impact, but it’s also such a huge quality-of-life issue for us,” he said. “People buy boats, water skis and fishing tackle, and when it’s the thick of the season and you can’t get on the lake, it’s not good. We need to get the parks straightened up and operational again.”
Flores said the tour also gave him a good understanding of the tough choices Corps officials have to make at flood-control lakes.
“It’s quite a balancing act in a situation like this recent flooding,” he said. “On the one hand, you want to get the lake levels down as quick as you can, but you have to restrict how much you can release to avoid problems downstream. I came away impressed with how coordinated the Corps is with their water management operations — they do a really good job.”
Frank Patterson, who heads the local emergency management office and joined the tour, said the recent flooding underscores the importance of a study now underway on Brazos River flooding. The city of Waco, McLennan County and the Corps are funding the study of how heavy rainfall in the area affects flow in the river.
“We’ll have a better understanding on exactly how much water we can send down the river at any given time before we start impacting communities,” he said.