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Local group aims to save Medina Lake with data

By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer

Save Medina Lake (SML) is an eight-member committee working under the nonprofit organization LAMCOS (Lake Medina Conservation Society). Its primary purpose is to use scientific data to keep water in the lake.
Spokesperson Rachel Mulherin said the group formed a little over two years ago. "We just watched the lake diminish and go dry, and we began to ask, why is our lake dry and other [Hill Country] lakes not?" she said.
The long-term drought was certainly a factor, but despite the lack of rainfall, other area lakes continued to hold water.
The group determined to take emotional responses out of the discussion as much as possible and to be as data driven as they could when looking for ways to keep water in the lake.
Medina Lake is unique in that it was built to provide irrigation water for farmers downstream. As a consequence, it has never been a constant level lake.
In order to educate itself, the group has been attending board meetings of the Bandera County River Authority board meetings and Bexar-Medina-Atascosa Counties WCID (BMA), the governmental agency that controls the irrigation system tied to the lake. They have become active participants with the Central Texas Water Coalition and have gone to Austin to meet with legislators and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
With an active presence on Facebook, the group has "been sharing what we've learned with whoever will listen," Mulherin said.
In the past, the relationship between lakefront property owners and BMA has been contentious. Save Medina Lake hopes to use the data they are collecting to convince BMA board members and the farmers they serve that an empty lake doesn't benefit anybody.
"The valves on Medina Dam are essentially left open," said Mulherin. "We believe that most of the water is [actually] going into the [Edwards] Aquifer. BMA makes no money off this water." The dam valves were closed by BMA in April of 2013 and remained closed until June of this year, according to SML. They were closed again in July, then reopened last week.
Save Medina Lake prepared and presented a powerpoint presentation to the BMA board early in July and while Mulherin said the response was not enthusiastic, her group sees the closing of the valves "as a positive sign."
SML would like to see the installation of meters on the valves and in the irrigation system so that water use can more effectively be monitored. BMA has submitted a conservation plan to TCEQ in which the installation of meters plays a part, but the BMA board has not yet moved forward with that plan.
SML makes it clear that they are "not challenging BMA's water rights, which authorizes the WCID to use 20,000 acre-feet per year for municipal purposes and 46,000 acre-feet per year for irrigation.
Nor are they challenging BMA's policy of maintaining the level of the Diversion Lake below Medina Dam between 910 and 913.5 feet above sea level." In addition to selling irrigation water to downstream farmers, BMA also sells water to San Antonio Water System (SAWS). Diversion Lake is the "holding" lake for these water sales.
"We want to make sure Medina Lake is never drained again," said Mulherin, and SML believes that keeping water in the lake will not only benefit lakefront property owners, but will also benefit those farmers downstream who were essentially without any water for irrigation for over two years.
SML contends that better management of the valves and installing meters to monitor flow can accomplish their goal of keeping water in the lake. Theoretically, if the smallest valve at the dam is left open constantly, over 200,000 acre feet of water will flow out of Medina Lake. The full lake holds 254,000 acre feet. Currently, Medina Lake is 74.7 percent full.
If you don't live on the lake, should you care? Well, lakefront property owners pay taxes on that land. When the lake disappears, values go down and property tax income decreases in Bandera and Medina counties. That means less money for schools and county services in both of those counties. As businesses are forced to close, less money is pumped into the local economy as well.
Visit the Save Medina Lake facebook page, study their data, learn about your lake and become involved in saving this treasure by using its resources in the wisest, best ways possible.