The owner and general manager of Cascade Caverns, a cave touring business nestled at the end of a winding road east of I-10, say the caves have seen unusual flooding in recent months, and they're blaming a series of subdivisions being built nearby.
Pamela Brauchle, the general manager at Cascade Caverns, captured video of a heavy flow of water into what’s called the Cascade Caverns Sink, an opening into the caves.
“That was amazing. That was unbelievable,” she said.
Brauchle said, at times, the flow is heavy enough to bring trash along with it.
“We're seeing everything from beverage cans to paint buckets to propane tanks that get washed out of the subdivisions and then come down with the water,” Brauchle said.
A KSAT 12 crew visited the caves a day after a rainstorm and saw water pooled near the sink but no heavy flow. A few days later, we returned to find the water flowing quickly into the Cascade Caverns Sink.
Brauchle blamed it on a nearby water main break.
The owner of Cascade Caverns, Lance Kyle, hired an engineering firm to study the effects of the increased water flow on the caverns.
“What's happening now is we're coming in and we're paving over all of that natural landscape with subdivisions and people's driveways and rooftops,” said Lauren Ross, with Glenrose Engineering. “And it changes the way the water comes off in a rainstorm.”
Ross said water used to be absorbed by trees, dirt and grass that has been paved over as developments move in. She said that is causing more sediment and mud to flow into the caves.
“Historically, the dam that keeps water out of the Cascade Cavern, the tour cavern, would only get topped on a 13-inch rain,” Ross said. “Now it's getting topped on a 6-inch rain.”
In May, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality issued a notice of violation to Meritage Homes, one of the companies creating the nearby Southglen subdivision, for having improper storm drainage, causing erosion and sediment to flow onto other properties.
The TCEQ said Meritage Homes has submitted proof of changes it made to correct the violations, which the agency would not yet release because it is still under review.
Meritage sent photos to KSAT 12 depicting changes that have been made to correct the problems.
A spokesperson for Meritage said providing adequate drainage is the combined responsibility of Meritage, other developers and the homeowners association.
Meritage issued the following statement when asked for comment on this story:
“Meritage Homes is the 7th largest homebuilder in the country and has been building in San Antonio since 2003. Meritage has a strong reputation as a quality homebuilder and leader in energy-efficient homebuilding. We are currently building in 21 communities in the San Antonio area, including The Oaks of Southglen, as one of several builders in the Southglen development.
The developer at Southglen, along with Meritage and other homebuilders, works cooperatively with the Southglen Homeowners Association, the City of Boerne, environmental engineers, investigators and a licensed erosion control firm to ensure proper stormwater management and compliance with regulations.
Meritage believes we are currently in compliance and we have regular procedures to ensure future compliance. We retain a third party environmental firm to perform weekly inspections and let us know if there are issues they believe are not in compliance or need to be corrected.”
Ross and Brauchle said they are not opposed to the growth around the caves, but they want to see something more done to preserve what came before it.
“We've closed down twice in the last two months because there's a lot of water in the cave,” Brauchle said. “Our pumps can’t keep up with the amount of water.”
“We'll lose the opportunity to have the experience of the natural Cascade Caverns,” Ross said.