The Brazos River is a key water resource for Brazoria County providing drinking water for local communities, irrigation for farms, power for industry and commerce, habitat for wildlife, venues for sportsmen, and supports critical environmental flows. The Lower Brazos River Coalition (LBRC) is a grassroots partnership of myriad stakeholders seeking fair and effective Brazos River supply management. The prolonged statewide drought over the past 6 plus years has affected major portions of the river’s watershed and relief does not seem in the offing, at least not in the new future.
Adding to the challenge of reduced supply, water use projections for the river are expected to nearly triple in the next 45 years. The result of current conditions is that competition for river water has fueled tensions among stakeholders as organizations from the upper and middle portions of the river are pursuing restrictions on the downstream flow. As Brazoria County endures at the end of the rivers flow, it is particularly susceptible to upstream activities. Reduced water flow will harm downstream communities, agriculture, natural habitats, and commerce. The group’s aim is to promote a balanced management of river water and flood control that will enhance water supplies throughout the entire Brazos River basin. It also strives to encourage water conservation and the enforcement of effective drought management policies.
Ivan Langford of the Gulf Coast Water Authority was instrumental in the formation of the group that also sees leadership contributions from Brazoria County Judge Matt Sebesta and Gary Basinger from The Economic Development Alliance for Brazoria County. In an effort to bring attention to the importance of ensuring a continued consistent supply and to encourage membership, the LBRC sponsored a luncheon on Monday that featured presentations from two experts in the river’s supply challenges.
Molly Mohler is the newly designated “Watermaster” of the Brazos River. In an effort to better manage an important and scarce resource, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) established the Watermaster Program for the Brazos River effective in January this year. In her position, Ms. Mohler will lead a team charged with allocating and enforcing water rights; monitoring stream flow, reservoir levels, and water use within the river basin; and responding to complaints. The watermaster will also oversee situations where a diversion would remove water that rightfully belongs to another user and notify the user with lower priority to reduce or stop pumping. Water-rights management is based on the concept of “run of the river rights,” meaning the five deputies employed by the Brazos Watermaster Program will oversee a constantly changing, dynamic surface-water system of rivers and tributaries that allow diversions as water is available and as it passes individual diversion points. When stream flows diminish, the deputies will enforce reduced allocations of available water resources according to each user’s priority date.
Kirby Brown is a Conservation Outreach Biologist with Ducks Unlimited and provided a legislative update to the group. Describing himself as a “duck guy,” he explained conservationist concerns are on waterfowl resources. He said about 1/3 of waterfowl in North America come to the Texas coast. The last intact rice prairie wetlands are in the area along the central Texas coast which provides sustenance to over 200 species of wildlife. Two-thirds of the energy intake of the goose and duck population in Texas comes from rice. Restricted water distribution from the Brazos River in 2014 and in 2015 has been implemented and distribution from the Colorado River has been disallowed to rice farmers for four consecutive years. He also described the importance of the fresh water feeding the Gulf from both rivers for a healthy fish population. “Everything is impacted by drought,” he exclaimed.
He described the “intense” drought that has affected the state since 2009. While the area along the Gulf Coast in Brazoria County is currently enjoying a respite from drought conditions, the upper portions of both the Colorado and the Brazos Rivers in north Texas are still experiencing “severe and extended” drought conditions. He described the efforts of recreational users to obtain similar user rights as agriculture and industry, saying they have employed “big checkbooks” in making their case to Austin legislators. He explained the importance of watching the legislative activities in Austin to counter threats from upper-river self-interest groups and associations that want to “change the rules.”
The Brazos River is the longest river contained entirely in Texas. Its draw lies approximately 50 miles west of the Texas-New Mexico border near Clovis and runs 1,050 miles to where it enters the Gulf of Mexico two miles south of Freeport. The watershed comprises 44,620 square miles, 42,000 of which are in Texas. The river enters the Gulf of Mexico two miles south of Freeport in Brazoria County. County Judge Matt Sebesta described the greatest challenge to meeting the industrial growth potential of south Brazoria County is a secure, consistent, and dependable water supply.
Additional information on the Lower Brazos River Coalition can be found at www.keepbrazosflowing.org.