Brazos River Authority

Type: General Entry

Published: 1976

Updated: November 1, 1994

The Brazos River Authority was established in 1929 by the Texas legislature as a public agency of the state of Texas. The 1929 act, a pioneering step in the history of water-resource management, marked the first time anywhere in the United States that development and management of the water resources of an entire major river basin had been entrusted to a single public agency organized for that purpose. The authority was originally known as the Brazos River Conservation and Reclamation District; in 1953 its name was changed to the Brazos River Authority by the Texas legislature. It has statutory responsibility for developing and conserving the surface water resources of the Brazos River basin in Texas and for putting these resources to use in the best interest of the people of Texas. The Brazos River basin covers some 42,000 square miles in Texas, about one-sixth of the area of the state; the boundaries of the river authority include all or part of sixty-five Texas counties. The authority is governed by a board of twenty-one directors appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Texas Senate. The directors serve staggered six-year terms. In the early 1990s the Brazos River Authority had some 160 employees and comprised eight divisions: General, Possum Kingdom, Possum Kingdom Hydroelectric, Lake Granbury, Lake Limestone, Federal Reservoirs, Pollution Control, and Water Treatment.

The authority in the early 1930s developed its first master plan for control, conservation, and development of the surface-water resources of the Brazos basin. The original master plan proposed the construction of thirteen major dams on the Brazos and its tributaries. The first reservoir project built by the river authority was Possum Kingdom Reservoir, a conservation and power project completed in 1941 on the main stem of the Brazos River northwest of Fort Worth. Financing of this project was obtained by a combination of state tax remissions and a federal grant from the Works Progress Administration (see WORK PROJECTS ADMINISTRATION). Two further reservoirs have been constructed by the authority: Lake Granbury, completed in 1969, and Lake Limestone, completed in 1978.

In the 1940s the Brazos authority began working closely with the United States Army Corps of Engineers after the corps was given responsibility by Congress for federal flood-control activities throughout the nation. The Brazos authority contracted with the federal government for inclusion of conservation storage space in nine corps of engineers reservoirs throughout the Brazos basin. These nine federal reservoirs, in addition to the three reservoirs owned and operated entirely by the Brazos authority, are integrated into the authority's basin-wide system of reservoirs in accordance with its master plan for water-resource development. The nine relevant corps of engineers reservoir projects in the Brazos basin are lakes Aquilla (construction completed in 1983), Belton (1954), Georgetown (1980), Granger (1980), Proctor (1963), Somerville (1967), Stillhouse Hollow (1968), Waco (1965), and Whitney (1951).

Additional water needs in the Gulf Coast area south of Houston were met through two canal systems acquired in 1967 by the Brazos River Authority. These two systems provided 130 miles of mainline canals that enabled the authority to supply water from the Brazos basin directly to water users throughout this industrial region as far east as Texas City and Galveston. Water was also supplied through these systems for irrigation of more than thirty thousand acres of rice.

Water quality is an increasingly important aspect of water-resource management, and the authority is continually expanding its activities in this field. For many years the authority's primary concern was the natural salt pollution in the upper Brazos basin. The authority spent considerable effort and money in the 1950s investigating this problem and defining the principal source of pollution. More recently it has also become concerned with problems of man-made pollution, and has developed several regional sewerage systems to prevent the development of potentially serious pollution problems. Although the Brazos River Authority is a public agency of the state, the authority carries out all of its activities without levying taxes. With the exception of occasional government grants for specific projects, it is entirely self-supporting, using revenues from its operations to pay all its costs.

Kenneth E. Hendrickson, Jr., The Waters of the Brazos: A History of the Brazos River Authority, 1929–1979 (Waco: Texian Press, 1981).
Time Periods:
  • Great Depression

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Anonymous, “Brazos River Authority,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 28, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

November 1, 1994