Former oil executive withdraws application to build private dam on South Llano River

A golf course borders Cedar Creek, a tributary of the South Llano River, Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2023, in Junction.
A golf course borders Cedar Creek, a tributary of the South Llano River, in Junction. A former oil executive has abandoned his plan to build a private dam on the river. Credit: Eli Hartman/The Texas Tribune

After months of opposition by communities along the Llano River, the former CEO of Houston-based energy company Phillips 66 has withdrawn his permit application to build a private dam on his ranch in Edwards County, according to state environmental regulators.

Greg Garland's Waterstone Creek LLC had sought state permission to dam the South Llano River in an application filed five years ago. The permit, if approved, would have allowed the LLC to create a pond roughly equal to six olympic-sized swimming pools.

The dam would have been the first private dam built in the Llano River watershed since 1976 — and the first built for recreational purposes like swimming, boating and fishing. At a public meeting about the application that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality held in August, Garland said the pool’s purpose was to promote more wildlife and fish on his property.

The agency received a letter from Peter T. Gregg, a representative for Waterstone Creek LLC, with a formal request to withdraw Garland’s application on Oct. 18, a day after The Texas Tribune published a story on the dam controversy.

Gregg and Garland did not respond to requests for comment.

“The dam is dead, the dam is dead,” said Linda Fawcett, president of the Llano River Watershed Alliance and a resident of Junction who lives about 60 miles southwest of Gregg’s property.

Fawcett and others along the river had expressed concerns about the proposed construction of a private dam along the South Llano River. They said it would start a domino effect of property owners building more private dams, which could alter the river's natural flow and send less water into the Highland Lakes.

Up and down the Llano River, local officials also had spoke out against the possible privatization of a section of a public river.

Kimble, Mason and Llano counties, which all rely on the river as their water source, passed resolutions in 2022 urging the TCEQ to deny the dam permit, citing the ongoing drought. A private dam “will seize the flow during sustained dry periods” and “have an adverse effect on the downstream flow of the river,” the resolutions said.

Fawcett said the collective effort of local politicians, activists and residents helped prevent the dam from happening.

“We love nature, we love the river and we want it in its natural state. I thank Mr. Garland for giving us a reason to unite,” Fawcett said.