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Risky Recreation

High flows bring higher risks at hot swimming spot

By Anita Miller
San Marcos Daily Record News Editor
June 2, 2007

San Marcos
— More water in the San Marcos River as the summer season begins is good news but it comes with a caveat of greater risk, particularly in the old swimming hole just below Spring Lake Dam.

Higher spring flows have increased the amount of water that flows through the chute of the dam that abuts Joe’s Crab Shack, raising the risk of someone being sucked into compartments in the restaurant’s foundation where turbines used to be located.

That’s what happened in 2003 to a Texas State University student who worked as a server at Joe’s Crab Shack and, according to authorities, had jumped into the swirling water after his shift ended.

Members of the San Marcos Area Recovery Team pulled the body of 22-year-old Jason Bonnin from one of the compartments in April, 2003, when spring flow was more comparable to the present time.

One of the divers later told university officials that floating masses of vegetation drawn into the compartments thickens into a near-impenetrable ceiling that would essentially doom anyone caught inside.

Flows have been diminished over the past two years only to return for this season.

“Be careful if you’re going there to swim and realize there are no lifeguards on duty,” said Captain Rickey Lattie of the University Police Department.

Officers make extra patrols of the dam area during the summer months and additionally, the area is posted with signs warning of the danger from the current and also a partially collapsed wall across from the chute.

“We hope people use reasonable caution,” Lattie said, adding that while most officers will issue warnings on first contact, criminal trespass is an offense for which someone can be arrested on the spot.

“The signs are clearly posted, you can easily see the area you’re not to go into,” Lattie said. “The rest is still open for public use.”
A cherished swimming spot for generations of San Marcans and visitors, Spring Lake Dam was damaged in the record-setting floods of October 1998 and was closed to the public from Memorial Day of 1999 until September of 2001.

During that time, the old chute was rebuilt, and the SMART diver and others have feared a slightly different alignment increases the possibility that the current could catch and trap a swimmer in one of the compartments.

Lattie said though police try to check by frequently, local residents are generally the first to warn someone not familiar with the area. “Our public helps us a lot in that area. Local people know the hazards. I’ve seen them warning people and helping them stay out of the areas they shouldn’t be in. If they’ll continue with that it will be greatly appreciated.”