In a bid to bolster flood response capabilities, the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) has successfully installed the first of 10 new floodgates at Wirtz Dam, situated in Burnet County, Texas.

The $76 million project, slated to span three years, aims to replace the aging floodgates originally installed when the dam was completed back in 1951. Designed to adhere to contemporary engineering standards, the new floodgates will enhance the dam's ability to manage floodwaters effectively. The dam was completed in 1951 with nine floodgates. A 10th floodgate was added when the original Thomas C. Ferguson Power Plant was constructed in 1974.

“Most of the floodgates have been in place for 73 years, so it’s time for them to be updated,” said Kelly Payne, LCRA vice president of Water Operations. “We’re in a drought now, but we’re in Flash Flood Alley, and we know the next flood could be right around the corner.”

LCRA is replacing the floodgates one at a time so the dam remains operational and ready to pass floodwaters downstream, if needed.

The new 120,000-pound floodgates are constructed near the dam, then moved to the dam via construction barges and cranes.

“It’s an exacting process to remove and replace floodgates on a working dam,” Payne said. “We gained valuable insight on the first floodgate that is proving to be helpful as we work on removing and replacing the remaining floodgates.”

LCRA opted for replacement over refurbishment, citing lower safety risks, minimal environmental impact, and reduced public disruption.

As part of the project, LCRA will also upgrade the hoists responsible for lifting the floodgates, ensuring seamless functionality for years to come.

Expected to conclude in 2025, the project mandates certain restrictions, with the area approximately 300 feet upstream of the dam on Lake LBJ remaining off-limits to boaters throughout the construction period.

This initiative follows similar projects undertaken by LCRA in recent years, including the replacement of floodgates at Tom Miller Dam in Austin and the upgrade of floodgates at Buchanan Dam in Burnet County. 

Since fiscal year 2010, LCRA has invested more than $165 million in capital projects at the dams along the Highland Lakes, Lake Bastrop and Lake Fayette, including on the dams themselves and related hydroelectric generation infrastructure. LCRA plans to invest more than $101 million in these types of projects over the next five years.

The first of 10 new floodgates is in operation at Wirtz Dam in Burnet County. The new floodgate is in the middle. On the right is the next floodgate to be replaced.