Cape’s Dam Controversy: A story of how competing campaigns to “Save” and “Free” the San Marcos River sway divisive public and political opinion

Authors: Kimberly Meitzen*, Texas State University
Topics: Water Resources and Hydrology, Geomorphology, Human-Environment Geography
Keywords: dam removal, endangered species, Central Texas, river management, local politics
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:20 PM
Room: Virtual 3
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The decision-making process to remove, repair, or rebuild the heavily flood damaged Cape’s Dam on the San Marcos River in San Marcos, Texas has been ongoing for a decade, but only became a major controversial issue since 2015. The mill dam was built in 1866 and has since changed ownership multiple times, yet its current ownership is untraceable, and the dam no longer serves its intended purpose. The 1985 owner rejected its inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places and in 2018 it was denied inclusion as a Local Historical Landmark, and the dam impacts habitat for three endangered species. On one side of the river the dam is affixed to City of San Marcos property and on the other side it is affixed to a local environmental nonprofit's property. The city claims responsibility for the structure and has taken lead deciding its fate. The city council voted to remove Cape’s Dam in 2016 and later reversed decision in 2020 in favor of repairing or rebuilding the structure through an interlocal agreement led by the county’s historical commission. The interim period involved a variety of information (and mis-information) campaigns from two groups to sway local public and political opinions. The “Save the San Marcos River” group promotes preservation of the dam, while the “Free the San Marcos River” supports its removal. The city’s final decision was not transparent and fueled concerns from the environmental interests. This unfinished story involves endangered species, local to federal stakeholders, and a passionate community.

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